â€œSo, the cockroaches scurry out from the shadows one by one.â€ Dukanthaâ€™s voice was filled with scorn as he locked blades with Twice-Forged Steel, but he cast a momentarily surprised look at the remains of his crew. The Abyssal noticed, and chuckled lightly, ignoring his foeâ€™s taunt. As Dukantha pushes, sending his great daiklave forwards in a great rush, Steel let the momentum flip him backwards, somersaulting through the air to land easily on one of the shipâ€™s masts â€“ and to jump from it as the rigging absent-mindedly took a swipe at him.
â€œYou know, Nganto, I said that he was mine.â€ The call was lighthearted, and the Lunar grunted something in response, her anima continuing to blaze about her, a school of silver razor-toothed fish flickering into and out of existence as she charged Dukantha once more. He stepped back, blocking each strike with a deft twist of his sword, before spinning and delivering a pair of crushing blows in return. Nganto caught each blow with the power of her anima, letting the force cascade harmlessly into the deck, where more chips took shape, each a tiny testament to the incredible force that the Infernal was bringing to bear.
â€œI suppose I should have listened.â€ Her voice was whisper-soft, but she managed a faint smile as she spun, dropped, and struck with a kick that forced the surprised Dukantha to take two steps backwards â€“ where Steel was already diving like a ration from above. The power of Dukanthaâ€™s Charms drove the Abyssal to one side, and he rolled easily as he landed on the deck.
â€œDamn straight you should have. Weâ€™ll have to talk it over later.â€
â€œThere will be no later for her, you pathetic worm!â€ Dukantha laughed as he brought his sword around â€“ and Steel dove forwards, instead of back, using the swinging black lead as a launching point as his sais pushed off, and he flipped through the air. Twin blows narrowly missed Dukanthaâ€™s flesh, skittering off armor and slicing through air, and Steel landed behind the Infernal in time to drop below the return thrust.
â€œNow, isnâ€™t that getting a little bit ahead of yourself?â€ Steel cocked a grin as he turned, but it faltered at the slight shake of Ngantoâ€™s head. The Lunar took three steps and unleashed a furious storm of blows, which Dukantha sidestepped and slipped around; one landed home, leaving a small scratch, which healed within moments.
â€œYou do not understand. It is only Lunaâ€™s Fortitude that keeps her up. Those wounds are too deep for her body to heal.â€ Dukantha smiled grimly, stepping forwards and bringing his sword around in a two-handed slice downwards. â€œShe was dead before you even landed on the deck.â€
â€œOh.â€ Steel considered that for a moment as he leapt forwards, slamming his sais down towards his opponentâ€™s boots. Caught off-guard, Dukantha lost his balance as he was forced to shift from attack to defense, and Steel rolled to one side and leapt back to his feet, his caste mark shining dark against his forehead and a tiny trickle of blood running down it towards his mouth. â€œWell, that is a shame. I was starting to like you, razor-teeth.â€
â€œThank you. I think.â€ Nganto smiled wryly, grabbing a pair of blood ape corpses and hurling them bodily at Dukanthaâ€™s legs. Once again, the daiklave curved around, this time slashing the corpses in two, but Nganto followed up with a sudden thrust that forced Dukantha to backpedal â€“ and his heavy armor was not up to the nimbleness needed. The corpses at his feet tangled him for a moment, causing him to fall backwards to the deck, and Steel leapt forwards with a shout of triumph and scored a long strike along the Infernalâ€™s forehead.
Dukantha chuckled in return, but his laugh faded as one hand reached up to the suddenly numb skin. â€œThatâ€¦ what have you done?â€
â€œOh, nothing much. Have you seen my sais?â€ Steel wagged his weapons mockingly. â€œCompassion isnâ€™t much use in a fight like this, but Iâ€™d like to see you heal the sort of wounds that Restraint leaves behind. Iâ€™m getting tired of watching you put yourself back together.â€ He glanced over the Infernalâ€™s shoulder, and his grin widened. â€œAlthough pretty soon, I think weâ€™ll all see just how far those limits of yours go.â€
Dukantha glanced over his shoulder to see three figures racing towards the ship; two through the sky and one across the waves. He frowned, spinning the sword around to block Ngantoâ€™s sudden leap, sending her rolling across the deck with the reverse of the swing. The railing snapped loose to hold her, and she twisted to tear it apart. â€œYou are beginning to annoy me, little man.â€ He stepped forwards and thrust towards the Abyssal, who once again lightly danced over it.
â€œOnly now? Iâ€™m losing my touch!â€ Steel grinned, his anima now deployed around him like a banner, and danced out of reach of the acidic spray cast by Dukantha. â€œI had hoped I was annoying you a while agâ€¦â€
Dukanthaâ€™s sword came around with impossible speed. Steelâ€™s words cut-off mid-laugh as his anima suddenly blazed in response; the shadows gathered around the ship as his sais blurred to turn aside each blow, impossible speed against impossible strength. Once. Twice. Three times. The sound of steel was a staccato of violence. Four. Five. Six. The two animas curled together, vying for dominance. Seven.
On eight, Steelâ€™s anima flickered, and his sais were not quick enough.
The blow caught him in the midriff, just below the ribcage. It lifted him into the air, flying head over heels. His sais fell from his hands, plunging into the sea, and he could feel his cloak unraveling.
From far away, he heard Niaâ€™s sudden cry. Saw her swing Citrios, letting the Dragon-Blood leap across the last of the distance to the deck, and hold out her hand. He focused, made his right hand obey, and caught her.
â€œSteelâ€¦â€ Niaâ€™s voice was filled with horror.
â€œâ€™S nothing. Gimme a sec to catch my breath.â€ Steel tried to chuckle, and felt blood bubble. He glanced downwards, trying to find the problem.
After a momentâ€™s inspection, it appeared that the problem was that his lungs had been bisected. Their bottom halves, and everything below that, was sinking into the water a hundred feet away.
â€œAh.â€ He smiled again, shrugged with his shoulders. â€œHell of a fight, eh?â€
â€œDefinitely.â€ Nia tried to smile through her tears, and Steel chuckled.
â€œHey, donâ€™t get all weepy. Hell of a way to go, eh?â€ Steelâ€™s voice faded. â€œTotally worth it. Give him hell.â€ He chuckled faintly. â€œGet it?â€
Nia laughed despite herself, and Steel grinned. â€œThatâ€™s a good girl. Catch you on the flip side.â€
And then he died.
Nia loosed her grip, letting Steelâ€™s body fall into the ocean. And then she returned her attention to Dukanthaâ€™s ship, and her eyes hardened.