12.1 The Morning Of

by Matt P.

“It’s been a week since our big pow-wow, and I’m not sure I’m any better at this.” Walter grumbled as he pulled himself back up the gym mat. He grunted a bit, although it wasn’t as bad as previous training sessions had been—they were go for spooky door in the afternoon, and they didn’t want to be beat all to hell.

Morgan stood in front of him looking very casual in her KU Medical sweats. Tanya, Ryan Aquino, Ryan Richards, and Siobhan and Antigone were all there as well in various forms of workout clothes, yoga clothes, and bare feet. Siobhan was the only one who looked like she was there to practice fighting of some sort, in the gi and hakama of the martial arts dojo whose space they were borrowing on a Saturday morning.

“Well you’re not supposed to be good at it.” Tania said dismissively, shrugging as she stepped forward to stand next to Morgan. “We’re older, faster, stronger, and we’ve been fighting since longer than this has been a country.”

“And so humble, too.” Walter offered wryly as he rolled his neck and shoulders. “So if I’m going to be so crap in this fight, why am I coming?”

Morgan gave him a soft smile, and put a hand on his chest to guide him back and away so they could demonstrate. “Because you’re not going to be fighting Oberon or his main retainers—we are. You’re going to be fighting the ones you can with Ryan, to help us.”

“And we’re here because?” Antigone asked. She looked the least comfortable with being there, and had not yet taken a sparring turn.

“Because I insisted you learn some if you’re going to keep getting attacked,” Walter answered as he leaned over to grab a water bottle. “Alright, since Tania is clearly itching for it, why don’t you two show us full speed.” He gestured as he took a long drink of the cool water. “Make me feel less bad about my righteous ass kicking.”

The two Faerie sisters shared a look and then a shrug, and settled back. With an impish grin, Morgan bowed deeply. “My lady of Summer, is the duel to be swords or no swords?”

Tania considered the words for a moment, before she shrugged and bowed back. “My lady of Winter, I choose fists, to three touches. Stand you prepared?” She asked with an edge of formality as she rose out of her bow to look at her sister. When Morgan nodded, Tania did as well. “Then I engage.”

The two of them were in motion so fast that Walter could barely process it. He heard the fight more than he saw it, the sound of fist meeting flesh an almost physical thing in the room. By the time he had adjusted enough to the speed of the fight to get a good sense of what they were doing, it was over. Morgan and Tania separated, Tania looking annoyed. When they bowed, Tania did so more deeply.

“Well, I’m boned.” Walter announced with a sigh.

“Do you remember the fight with the one you called Ninja Grandpa?” Morgan asked, as she went back to leaning against a wall.

“Are we just going to gloss over the fact that we just watched a live performance of The Matrix?” Siobhan said, a little bit stunned.

“Yes.” Walter answered, ignoring the color commentary for a moment.

Morgan smirked at Siobhan, but looked back to Walter. “What did you think of him?” She asked curiously.

“I thought he just about kicked my ass,” Walter answered with a snort, but then he paused to consider it seriously. “I thought he was young.” He pondered the words for another moment. “Or if not young then inexperienced. He’s used to fighting people who are slower than he is, by a lot—but he doesn’t really know how to fight because of it. He’s all speed and strength, but it’s all big hay-makers and telegraphed movements. Once you adjust to looking at him, or apparently touch iron, then you can see what he’s doing a mile before he gets there.”

Morgan nodded. “That is true of a lot of his followers. They’ve spent a century, minimum, primarily going after humans. And he always had draw amongst the youngest of our soldiers and knights, because he is a war hero and wooed them with stories of glory. We are like anyone else, it takes time for us to learn to fight—and that is your window.”

The older Ryan chuckled darkly. “But don’t think it’s too big a window, boss, because it isn’t. I’ve even got some tricks you don’t, and I have to use every dirty and nasty thing I ever learned to fight one of the Sidhe. And the highest of them are even worse, because they are likely to have been soldiers.”

“We have a tradition as a military aristocracy.” Tania said proudly. “But they’re right. We have mortal heroes who have killed knights in our history. Normally we either leave them to the Wild Hunt, or we take them as our retainers. So you have that going for you.” Her smile was leonine, and Walter wasn’t entirely certain how much of her statement was a joke. If any.

“Alright.” Siobhan said, with an air of certainty. “I want a piece of you.” She said, grabbing her wooden practice sword, the shinai, and pointing at at Tania. “You and me with swords.”

Tania looked stunned, and let out a little laugh. “You want to fight swords with me? For what possible reason?”

“One?” Siobhan asked. “Because I came here to sword fight, not for a history lesson. Two, because if I don’t fight great people I won’t get better—and there is literally no other chance I’ll ever have to fight someone as old as you with a sword.”

Tania considered it for a moment, as Walter looked at his daughter in slight bewilderment. “Fine, never let it be said a Queen of Faerie doesn’t appreciate mortal boldness. I will give you three touches before you can give me one,” she proclaimed as she grabbed another shinai.

Tania gave Siobhan a duelist’s salute, bringing the sword up to kiss where the cross-guard would be if it didn’t have the round guard of a katana. Siobhan bowed in the Japanese style, hands at her side and her back straight. “I engage.” Tania announced.

Walter was prepared this time, and so he was able to see the freight train coming at his daughter. He winced at the lash of the Summer Queen’s blade as it whipped out toward her. But Siobhan was apparently expecting it, and managed to deflect the blade just in time. That itself drew a gasp from the crowd, and especially from Walter. But Tania just looked peeved and pressed the attack. Her next blow came in faster and higher, coming down toward the crown of Siobhan’s head.

At first it looked like Siobhan stumbled, but Walter saw her fall to her rear was controlled. As she landed she thrust out her sword even as Tania’s swept down. While the louder sound was the gentle thwack of a controlled strike from the strips of bamboo to Siobhan’s head, there was a softer sound as well. As all movement in the dojo stopped, the martial tableau revealed itself fully. Siobhan was struck on the head, the practice blade quivering there with finality; but her drop had given her time to put the tip of her sword right in to Tania’s stomach, where it rested in defiance of all odds and predictions.

Tania blinked and her face ran through a maelstrom of emotions. Anger, disbelief, and even grudging respect were visible before she went stony, and bowed deeply.

Morgan supplied the sentiment for the rest of them. “Huh.”