In Version; Chapter 138, Slade 248

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Stories from the Verse
In Version
Chapter 138:  Slade 248
Table of Contents
Previous chapter:  Brown 279

As Slade headed for the entrance to the field, he overheard quiet comments about his upcoming fight.  Apparently it was a big deal.  From what he could gather, he was about to face a Fenex Fencing Master.  He wasnít sure whether Fenex was the type of creature or the type of fencing, but it sounded interesting to him.  He had faced quite a few tough opponents along the way, and word was this would be the last of them, so it made sense that it would be the toughest of them.

He was first to enter the pitch, but stood outside the ring while he awaited his opponent.  It was perhaps a minute later, and he wondered whether that was a psychological tactic.  Still, he raised an eyebrow as the large opponent entered.  It appeared very like a large walrus, as tall as himself but two to three times as heavy and what looked mostly like fat or blubber.  Although it was wearing shoes, they betrayed the shape of wide, paddle-like feet, a theme that was echoed to some degree in the oversized hands.  Much more striking, however--and Slade wondered whether that was an ironically appropriate word--were the horns, or antlers, or whatever they were, protruding sideways from the front of the top of its skull and curving slightly forward at the tips, a good three feet from end to end, reminiscent of a longhorn steer.

It wore two swords, nearly identical as far as he could tell, but they were both set for right-hand draws.  That meant either it only fought with one and had the other in case it was disarmed, or it had a fancy maneuver by which it tossed one sword from its right hand to its left while drawing the other.  He thought that less likely--good for show, not for combat.

He noticed that it, too, was standing outside the circle, studying him as intently as he was studying it.  Indeed, this promised to be an interesting match.  With a smile he wished he could shape-change like Derek, just to make it that much more interesting.

He suddenly wondered whether the referee was getting impatient--indeed, whether robots had that ability.  He supposed someone could program it into the thing, that after so many hundreds of seconds it needed to take some action.  Still, he decided it was time, and slowly and firmly stepped over the edge that marked the circle.

He thought the opponent smiled, and then it did the same.

All right, boys, I want a clean fight, no hitting below the belt--yeah, there were none of those rules here.  It was, if you get killed in the ring our medics will bring you back.  That is, if they can find you.

He almost didnít hear the go; but his opponent didnít move, either.  It was still assessing.  It struck him that he couldnít imagine an opponent this far up the competition had not taken the opportunity to watch a human fight, particularly as they had been such sensations generally; but it also occurred to him that if it had watched Derek fight, it would have learned very little about Slade.  Even when they used similar weapons, they used them very differently.

He took a slow, deliberate step toward the center, and drew the cape onto his left arm.  The creature didnít move.  With his second step he drew his sword.  The opponent still stayed in its place, but also drew one of its swords.  It swung it around, although whether it was feeling the balance or just posturing he didnít know.  It then gripped the hilt with both hands and leaned forward slightly in a readiness stance Slade thought looked more like a Samurai than a fencer.  This, though, was a different world, and heíd never actually studied swordsmanship before he was traveling to different worlds.

With another step he realized that the crowd was absolutely silent.  There was some kind of expectation in that, as if they were all on the edges of seats (or however that worked with their particular musculoskeletal forms), waiting to see what would happen.

As Slade took his fourth step, his opponent scraped its feet on the floor, very like a bull does, or like he had thought a bull did, before it charged.  However, it did not charge, instead taking its own deliberate step inward but sideways, toward Sladeís left.  It must be guessing that that would be his weak side, because his sword was in his right.  Slade paused and watched it take another step in the same direction, and then decided to continue his course straight to the middle.  It might have wanted him to come toward it, or indeed to circle away, but this would be the unexpected move.

The gap between them was narrowing very slowly, and there was some murmuring now from a crowd growing impatient.  Ignore them, he reminded himself.  Weíre not really here for their entertainment.  Sure, thatís why theyíre here, but weíre here to prove our abilities against each other.  Still, he decided it was time to change his tactic.

He walked to the center of the ring and turned to face the fencer, holding his sword in a position which he hoped said, Iím ready, come get me.

Once more he thought perhaps the alien smiled, but it was brief.  It raised its face and shook its head, flashing those dangerous-looking horns, and then obligingly walked at a brisk but controlled pace to close the gap.  Letís do this, Slade thought.

A few feet away, the creature abruptly raised its sword above its head, and on the next step it swung it downward.  That was a bold attack, Slade thought, but he flashed his sword to meet it and deflected it outward and down to his own right side.  The opponent did not pause, but began coming up at an angle that promised to cross Sladeís torso; he intercepted this, and there was a flurry of bladework as the fencer kept looking for an opening and not finding it.  The tip of the enemy blade went up to the left, and as it came down, Slade intercepted it with his cape--but not before it had hit left shoulder.  Still, having caught the sword, Slade managed to twist it from the hands of the fencer.  However, before he could land his counterattack it had drawn the other sword and interposed it adequately to knock his attack aside.  He blocked its effort to jab, again with the cloth, and the fencer stepped back.

Both fighters took a few deep breaths; Slade was encouraged that this was not proving easy for his opponent, either.  He was not encouraged that he had not yet landed a blow.  He needed to even the score, as it were.  Not waiting for the other to move, he stepped forward quickly and flashed the cloth high in front of its face.  It instinctively raised its blade to block, leaving a significant opening for Slade to force his blade into its gut several inches.  He drew back.

He had not drawn blood.  It had not occurred to him that those layers of blubber would effectively be a suit of padded armor.  Oh, it must have hurt, but it hadnít done significant damage--unlike his shoulder, which was complaining at the continued stress.  He stepped back and saw the opponent check the wound but ready itself to strike again.

This time as it swung Slade miscalculated:  it was not aiming for him, but attempting to entangle the cloak.  It succeeded, and pulled it from Sladeís grip; undaunted he drew his dagger, parried the enemy sword, and drove the tip of his longer blade into its left arm.  That was considerably less well protected, as the grimace on its face demonstrated.  Still, it stepped back and with a flourish tossed the cape from its sword to somewhere behind it.  It then took a new stance, the sword extended forward in its right hand and its left arm above and behind its head somewhere for balance.

It abruptly moved in fast, and Slade saw the sword coming and parried it.  However, as it got that close, it tossed its head and drove the tip of its right horn into his left upper arm.  He almost dropped the dagger from the sudden pain, and realized that it was not going to be much use from this point forward--but that he needed to prevent the opponent from realizing that.  He feinted with the dagger, and as the opponent swiftly moved to block the fake attack he jabbed its right arm.  It swung back to drive his sword away, and he stepped back and ducked, bending his knees to get low.  The enemy sword passed above him, and he was certain the attacker would try to come down at him as at the beginning.  He leapt forward and upward with the dagger in front of him--something he had never tried, but which Derek had described and used successfully more than once--and buried the blade in the blubber.  He was sure that would hit something critical, but at that moment the point of the opponentís sword pierced his side from behind and above, somewhere near his kidney.  Critical for critical, but he twisted and felt the opponent lose its grip on the blade which was now sticking through his body, and he drove his own sword through the upper leg.  He held himself up long enough to see the enemy collapse, and then he allowed himself to fall atop it.

Please, he thought, get the medics to me while Iím still here.

Next chapter:  Chapter 139:  Kondor 254
Table of Contents

As to the old stories that have long been here:

Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel

Old Verses New

For Better or Verse

Spy Verses

Garden of Versers

Versers Versus Versers

Re Verse All

In Verse Proportion

Con Verse Lea
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The Original Introduction to Stories from the Verse

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