“Inés, you don’t have to do this,” Ashley whispered. “I can win them over given time. There’s no reason for you to risk giving my brother your loyalty.”
“Maybe not,” Inés said. “But I agreed to see things through with you. If this is how you’re going to handle it, I’ll believe in you. So, go out there and beat him down.”
Sebastian and his entourage led them to a gathering place. Several of his guards moved off. Soon, the thieves gathered, ready to enjoy the spectacle.
“Ladies, Gentlemen,” Sebastian said. “My wayward sister and I will settle our differences today. Though it pains me to do so. Leadership of our dear father’s guild rests on this match. ”
“Spare me the false pity,” Ashley said. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Of course, Sis,” Sebastian said. He tossed the scroll to Inés. “Hold on to that. I’ll want it back when this is over.”
Sebastian readied his daggers. Ashley her bagh nakh. Sebastian’s men brought ropes to create a make-shift ring. They proceeded to line it with leech stones.
“No magic to save you here,” Sebastian whispered. “Feel like giving up now?”
Ashley shook her head. “I don’t need magic to beat you, Brother.”
He shook his head. “How sad. I always was your superior with a blade. Yet you would throw your life away so easily? Well, I tried. Let’s get this started.”
Sebastian and Ashley circled one another. Sizing one another up. Sebastian acted first, rapidly slashing at Ashley’s chest. Her bagh nakh came up in response, catching the blade between the claws. He quickly withdrew the dagger, stabbing with his second. She slashed at it, pushing it aside. She swung around, moving her other bagh nakh for his neck. He responded by diving to the ground, rolling forward and jumping up, his daggers slashing for her throat. She retreated, leaping backwards and landing nimbly on her feet.
Inés watched the whole exchange without giving any sign of emotion. She was trying to judge which one was more skilled. Trying to anticipate how things might end. The thieves around her were having varied reactions. Some were horrified, an elderly man near her in particular. Others seemed fascinating. Some had started a betting pool.
Sebastian tried to follow up on his attack, rushing forward with his daggers flashing. Ashley moved quickly, deflecting the blows with skilful twists of her bagh nakh. He lunged forward, leading with his right. Ashley moved to the side and slashed. He twisted , bringing his daggers up to defend himself. The weapons clashed and sparks flew. His dagger moved up to counter attack. Her bagh nakh moved to intercept.
The two pulled away, circling one another and breathing heavily. Sebastian acted first again. His right dagger moved forward, almost sluggishly compared to his previous moments. A feint, Inés realised. Ashley moved to block the swing. A mistake. He smirked and his left dagger slashed. She pulled back, blood dripping from the left side off her face.
“Looks like it’s my win, Sis!” He declared.
Sebastian pressed the attack. Ashley ducked and rolled forward. One bagh nakh turning his jabs aside. The other slashed deeply across his chest. He moved back in surprise and pain. The moment of hesitation was all she needed. She lunged, her bagh nakh slashing his throat open.
He dropped. Inés hurried into the makeshift ring. Ashley’s face had been sliced open down from her forehead, across her eye and into her cheek.
“Come on,” Inés said. “We have to get you to a cleric.”
“I’ll do it,” the elderly man stepped forward. “Hurry, bring her away from the leech stones.”
“Uncle Jason,” Ashley said. Her voice was shaky.
Inés helped her over to him.
“I can’t save that eye,” Jason observed. “But I can keep you from losing more blood.” He glanced into the ring. “Nothing I can do for him, I’m afraid.”
“Sylvie!” Serena looked frantic when she returned to the temple. “Has Inés come back?”
“I thought you two were together,” Sylvie said. “You’d better tell me why you’re worried.”
“Here,” Ashley tossed Inés a pouch of coins. “It’s everything I promised you.”
“Thank you,” Inés said. “But what about you? Can you really keep them in line?”
“With the support of my father’s friends,” Ashley answered. “Now that the truth about Sebastian has come out.” She turned away from Inés. “I’ll show you the way out.”
“Wait a moment,” Inés said. “Maybe you could give me a little tour of your chambers. After all, my friends and I aren’t leaving Malachi until tomorrow morning. We’ve got nearly a full day yet.”
Ashley’s hand moved up to her eye-patch. Her fingers moving along the scar. “You don’t have to try to make me feel better,” she said. “I know that I look terrible.”
“Believe me,” Inés said. “There’s nothing about you that looks terrible.” She moved forward and gently kissed Ashley’s forehead, right where the scar began. “It might look a little odd, to be honest. But you’re still a sexy woman. Scar, patch and all.”
“Is that so?” Ashley asked. She gave Inés a confident smile. “Just don’t expect me to to go easy on you. I’ve had plenty of time to recover my stamina.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Inés said.
“And you’d better come see me whenever you travel through here,” Ashley added.
“I look forward to seeing how your code improves things around here,” Inés said.
“Then it’s a deal,” Ashley said. “Come on, my room’s this way.” She took Inés’ hand and the two moved down the guild’s corridors together.