“I will kill him.”
Erra’s eyebrows rose. “You’d have to go through me first.”
I shrugged. “I have to do something for a warm-up.”
She laughed softly. “That’s the spirit. I do think you might be my favorite niece.”
“It warms my heart.”
“Enjoy the feeling while you still have one. I’m going to enjoy your books after you die. You bred true by pure chance, and no matter what you do, you’re weaker than me. If you see your mother on the other side, slap her for me for thinking she could bear a child to our family.”
That’s just about enough of that. I stared right into her eyes. “You’ll lose.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“You have no discipline. All you do is tear shit down. My father is a bastard, but at least he builds things. You turn cities into smoking ruins and blunder about like some hyper child, smashing anything you see. And then you sit here and wonder, ‘Why did all of my children turn out to be violent idiots? It’s a mystery of nature.’ ”
We rose at the same time, swords in hand. Grendel rammed the bathroom door, barking in a hysterical frenzy.
Power swirled around Erra, like a cloak of magic. “Alright. Let’s see what you have.”
I pointed to the door. “Age before beauty.”
“Pearls before swine.” She strode out and I followed her. Pearls before swine. Blah-blah-blah.
We headed out of the apartment and down the stairs. My side hurt like hell.
We strode out into the snow-strewn parking lot. I swung my sword, warming up.
“How’s your wound?” she asked. “Does it hurt?”
I stretched my neck left, then right, popping it. “Every time I cut Solomon, he grunted in your voice like a stuck pig. It hurts you when the seven are wounded, doesn’t it? Oh, yes, I do apologize. Not seven. Five.”
“Make your peace.” She waved me on.
“Are we going to do this, or will you keep talking?”
My aunt came across the snow, sword raised. Fast. Too fast. A woman that large should’ve been slower.
Her blade thrust. Quick. I dodged and struck at her side. She parried. Our swords connected. Shock punched my arm. And strong like a bull.
Erra sliced at my shoulder, I blocked, letting her blade slide off my saber, spun, and kicked at her. She leaped back. We broke apart.
My aunt tossed her leather jacket into the snow and motioned to me with her fingers.
“I’m sorry, am I supposed to bring it?”
I charged and thrust. She parried, twisting. I hooked her leg with mine and sank the knuckles of my left hand into her ribs. Bone crunched. She rammed her elbow, aiming for my ribs. I turned with the blow and the jab barely grazed me. Pain ripped through my insides. We broke off again.
Liquid heat drenched my side. She tore the wound open. Great.
I saw the muscles on her legs tense and met her halfway. We clashed. Strike, strike, parry, strike, left, right, left, up. I danced across the snow, matching my movements to her rhythm and going faster, forcing her to follow mine. My side burned. Every small movement stabbed a white-hot needle into my liver. I clenched my teeth and fought through it. She was strong and inhumanly fast, but I was a hair faster.
We dashed back and forth. She struck again and again. I dodged what I could and parried the rest. Blocking her was like trying to hold back a bear. She nicked my shoulder. I ducked under her reach, slashed her thigh, and withdrew.
Erra raised her blade straight up. A drop of red slid down the blade. She touched it. “You know a lot of tricks.”
“You don’t.” She was skilled, but all her attacks were straightforward. Then again, she didn’t have to rely on tricks. Not when she hit like a sledgehammer. “You learned to fight when magic was a certainty, so you rely on it to help you in a fight. I learned to fight when technology still had the upper hand and I rely on speed and technique. Without your spells and magic, you can’t beat me.”
You aren’t better than me, nyah-nyah-nyah. Take the bait, Erra. Take the bait.
“Clever, clever little squirrel. Fine. I’ll cut you to pieces by hand, without using my power. After all, you are family and one must make allowances for blood relatives.”
We clashed again. Snow flew, steel flashed. I cut and diced, putting everything I had into my speed. She defended too well for a good body wound, so I went for her arms. If she couldn’t hold a sword, she couldn’t fight.
Her knee caught me. The blow knocked me back. Pretty stars blocked my vision. I flew and hit the snow. Get up, get up, get up. I clawed on to consciousness and rolled to my feet, just in time to block her blade.
Erra bled from a half-dozen cuts. Her sleeve dripped red into the snow. She pushed me back, grinding her blade against Slayer. My feet slid.
“Where is your blood armor, little mongrel child? Where is your blood sword? I keep waiting for your power to show up, but it never does.”
“I don’t need my blood to kill you.”
“You’re bleeding.” She nodded at my side. My shirt stuck to my body, soaked with quickly cooling heat. I’d left a trail of red across the snow. “We both know how this will end. You’re better skilled, but you’re wounded. I’ll beat on you until the bleeding slows you down and then kill you.”
Good plan. Right now it seemed very plausible.
Erra nodded at the blood trail. “Use your blood while you still can so at least I’ll know you were worth something.”
“I don’t need it.”
“You can’t do it, can you? You don’t know how to work the blood. You foolish, foolish child. And you think you can beat me?”
I dropped my guard and twisted to the side. She took a tiny step forward, off balance, and I knocked her left arm up and thrust. Erra jerked back. Slayer slid into her left armpit, quick as the kiss of a snake, and withdrew. She screamed. Blood streamed, but not fast. Not deep enough. Damn. I backed away.
She laughed, baring her teeth, her hair falling about her face. Her lips moved, whispering. A healing chant. Fine, two could play that game. I murmured the incantation under my breath, chanting my side into regeneration.
“I like you. You’re dumb but brave. If you run now, I’ll give you a head start,” she said. “Two days. Maybe three.”
“You’d use the time to murder everyone I ever knew and then rub it in my face.”
“Ha! You must be my child.”
I bared my teeth. “If I was your child, I would’ve strangled myself in the womb with the cord.”