Amira dropped to a crouch in the soft snow. The unfamiliar akaviri armor weighed her down, but not so much that she couldn’t work with it. Her tail twitched as the blades of her opponent scissored a flea’s length over her head. Her ears barely flattened in time to avoid a vicious clipping. The young khajiit had spent a sizable portion of the last few weeks on the road – on a pilgrimage of sorts – in preparation for the duel she now faced. Her opponent had spent far longer in mastering the same techniques, and it showed. The other khajiit was fluid, and near-flawless in her deadly dance. And the akaviri armor she had stolen from her murdered mentor didn’t seem to weigh her down as it did to Amira.
But Amira’s opponent was brash, reckless, and arrogant in her ability. Blasphemously so in many cases. Amira had dealt with such foes before in the form of the dragons whose souls she had taken to herself like the Mother Cat took her kittens. She had decided that this being an honor duel, she would not call forth the shouts that now defined her to the people of Skyrim. As she raised her off-hand blade in a circular motion, deflecting a strike to the head, she wondered at what point she had begun to develop ethics. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of two figures standing off a ways from the duel. Both were khajiit, like Amira and her opponent. One was older and wore a monk’s robes. The other was younger, with a somewhat bluish hue to his fur, and a somewhat fidgety, worried expression. To their credit, neither looked about to interfere, though the younger of the pair was obviously making a great deal of effort to restrain himself.
And then her attention was called back to the battle. Her knowledge of the stances of the Way of the Nine was not comparable to that of her opponent, but in terms of skill rather than technique, she was the better – a fact which only served to infuriate her opponent as the fight went on. What had started as smirking, sneering disdain had progressed through cold, murderous determination to snarling, bitter fury. And while her opponent was still focused, it was a bit too much for her own good. Amira paced herself, calling upon the lessons she had learned over the course of her pilgrimage, and the blessings each of the Divines had offered. The last was that of her opponent’s mentor – the dead Blade who had bade her take up the work of disciplining the errant pupil. Long ago, the opponent had murdered her mentor, discarding him when she felt she had learned all she needed to know. Disdaining him and his reliance on the Gods, she had also discarded the core that her sword techniques had been founded on. In another life, perhaps another time, Amira might have been that kitten.
In the here and now, though, she was the opponent’s executioner. The opponent surged forward at her, but this time, Amira advanced to meet the blades with her own. The four lengths of sharpened, curved steel met with a calm-shattering crash, and caught upon each other. The two khajiit duelists now found themselves locked face to face with each other. Whiskers flicked, and muzzles flashes hissing grimaces of mutual disdain. Amira could practically hear the Drums of Arkay pounding in her head, though in time, she would reckon it was merely her own heartbeat, thundering inside her, and guiding her will and blades. Amira, despite her smaller size, was the stronger, and stooping slightly, shoved the opponent backward in a sudden jolt. The opponent was caught off her footing and stumbled backward for only a half-second before righting herself.
By then, it was too late. In the half-second she had been knocked back, her swords had gone out to her sides as she involuntarily sought for balance. She she pushed herself up from her knees, Amira’s blades caught her through the chest from a higher angle, driving through the chestplate of her armor and forcing her back to her knees. A hiss of rage and pain echoed through the still, frigid night air. Gathering her balance, Amira backed up, removing her weapons from her opponent’s torso. As she did so, Amira thought she could hear the Drums of Arkay fading from the background as calm began to restore itself. She stared at her opponent, and her opponent stared back, a mixture of hatred and incomprehension flickering in her eyes.
The opponent spat at Amira, but it was a weak effort. The blood-laden spittle stained the snow at Amira’s feet, and the opponent laughed bitterly. The eyes were glazing, even as the opponent struggled to live just a bit longer. They fell to the ground, now laden with the blood from both duelists – and the tracks marking where their movements had taken them. With her strength waning, the opponent studied the tracks with the desperate intensity of a doomed soothsayer. Her swords dropped from her near-nerveless fingers as she tried to paw at the tracks in dying frustration.
“Blast!” the opponent snarled. “I almost had it this time!”
She tried to rise, but her legs seemed not to work. Amira had to restrain the urge to offer her opponent a hand up. But by this time, the opponent had no care for anything by the tracks in the snow, which were already being eradicated by the wind. Blood poured from the wounds and onto the snow around the opponent, and she gave another hacking cough. She briefly glanced up at Amira, eyes unfocused, and clambered, tottering, to her feet.
“…I… I could see it in front of me! I just… just need to re… retrace the…”
The opponent tried to move one leg, as though initiating a kata, then stumbled and fell face-first into the snow, and moved or spoke no more. Only her tail flew lifelessly in the wind. Amira felt a certain pity for her slain opponent. After all of this effort, the corpse had utterly obliterated the tracks they had left. She felt it was a very undignified end for a warrior.
The Drums of Arkay had ceased in her head by now, and Amira felt she could breathe again, though it hurt. She had been scored by several wounds from her opponent’s blades before the end came. Without the focus and adrenaline of combat, the young khajiit fell back, exhausted onto her haunches in the snow. She was aware of the shade of the opponent’s mentor, congratulating her and saying something about the Gods. She muttered something suitably heroic and complimentary, but would later be unable to recall what it had been. Too, she was aware of the presence of her travelling companions, Inigo and Qa’Dojo. It was the monk who reached her first. He muttered some parable under his breath as he worked to staunch the bleeding, but Amira wasn’t really listening, merely being comforted by the soothing presence and voice.
“Can she move, monk?” The voice was somewhat nervous and impatient, trying to hide its evident worry with quiet, urgent bravado. Inigo’s face swam into view, but any direct inquiry was interrupted.
“She’ll be fine, my young friend. She has just engaged herself in a very stressful, draining experience. Give her a few moments to right herself. If you want to be helpful, dig into one of our packs and hand me some of those potions, yes?”
Amira’s head was beginning to swim. She had been wounded often and badly enough in Skyrim to know this was the sign of deep wounds and blood loss. The opponent had not been completely outmatched, and the cuts she had made had taken their own sweet time to start bleeding out. Her vision darkened and she feelt her jaws being coaxed open by shaking hands.
“I should have shot that mangy furball in the back of the head.” Inigo was grumbling, sounding angry with himself. As long as Amira had traveled with him, she had come to know of his miserable bouts of self-hatred. Absently, she chided herself for getting carried away when she had known her companion was in such a fragile personal state, but there was nothing to be done, now. She tasted… red… and warmth in her mouth. It wasn’t the taste of blood, but something that was foul on the tongue… but seeped into her being. Her vision, dimmed to darkened shadows brimmed over with deep, healing crimson, and slowly began to come back into focus, fading in and out while the potions did their work. The snow was falling again, and absent-mindedly, Amira flicked her tongue out, catching a few snowflakes and lapping them up in an exaggerated manner. Something in the motion must have struck the right nerves, because Inigo’s worried, fidgety motions were replaced with a short, cleaning burst of hysterical laughter. Qa’Dojo looked between Amira and Inigo and tsk’ed quietly to himself, but his whiskers twitched with faint amusement, all the same.
“Stay laid down for a few moments more, little kitten. Let the potions do their work. Inigo will sit with you while I tend to the body of your fallen foe.”
The blue-furred khajiit’s ears flattened in annoyance. “I say we leave that evil thing for the beasts. It was honorable of our friend to engage her so, but I do not think she is overly worthy of courtesy now.”
Qa’Dojo shrugged. “Perhaps, but it is not to honor her so much as it is to honor our friend. Perhaps we should ask Amira herself, yes?” The older khajiit glanced down at Amira. “What do you think, hm?”
Amira’s head was no longer swimming. She glanced over at the body. Not even the tail moved anymore – the tip had become stuck under one leg somehow. All life had fled the body by now. All that was left was a dead, furry… thing. Amira slowly guided herself to a sitting position. “…her name was S’Vashni. Give her whatever proper rights you can. She may not deserve such courtesy, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t obligated to give it just the same. No reason to go developing bad habits, especially when it comes to mercy.”
She glanced over at Inigo, and caught his expression. It was the look of someone who was duly chastened, but it didn’t stay for long. Nonetheless, she felt he had understood. She extended a hand to him, and he pulled her up. Qa’Dojo said nothing, but went quietly about his work. Amira allowed Inigo to guide her to a sitting spot on a fallen log, and tried to relax while he collected the fallen blades – hers and S’Vashni’s. Inigo handed Amira’s blades back, then held up those that had been S’vashni‘s.
“I’ll hold onto these for now, if you’ll permit me. You’re already weighed down and still wounded. I’ll turn them over to you once we get back to Breezehome. Is that alright?” Amira nodded, and Inigo took a few moments to fashion a back-sling for both of the scabbarded blades. Once this was done, he sat down on the log next to Amira. For a time, there was companionable silence as the younger khajiit watched Qa’Dojo do his work. At length, Inigo spoke again, perhaps still nervous and wanting to fill the silence. “So… Not exactly like sitting at a table at the Bannered Mare, hm?”
Amira chuckled, though even that still hurt. “The service is just about as good. I don’t think Saadia’s much of a waitress.”
Inigo chortled a bit at this. “Coming back from the brink of death with a horrible humor. That’s one thing I have always admired about you, my friend. But don’t go scaring me like this again, yes? I don’t exactly have that many friends left in Skyrim, losing my best one… I’m not sure I could accept this. Who else would put up with my observations on how many useless knick-knacks they carried around, or how the local Nords haven’t figured out a toilet more advanced than a bucket, hm? You are my friend, and I… I am glad to know you, to share in your adventures. I don’t want them to come to a sudden end because you had to do something on your own.”
Amira felt somewhat uncomfortable at the way Inigo had begun to pour himself out to her. Not because she thought he was love-stricken. She was well aware that there was no attraction between them, but at some point, she and the azure khajiit became close-knit. When she had found him in the Riften jail, he had recognized her as someone he had shot and betrayed. And she had not recognized him at all. She had no recollection of him, although it was not surprising, as there were several gaps in her memory directly prior to being arrested for illegally crossing the border between Cyrodiil and Skyrim. She had forgiven him, had accepted his help, despite some trepidations of a setup. And he had followed her since then. As she had grown in confidence and responsibility, so too had Inigo begin to shake off the guilt and self-loathing that had caused him to retreat inward. His hands shook a little – trembled, really. Amira could practically see his thoughts turning towards the Skooma that he had given up, but confessed a remaining desire for. She reached out, took him by the wrist, not hard, just firm enough to get his attention. She grinned, flicked her whiskers once, twice.
And just like that, they began to laugh as the snow fell once more.