Clover swings an arm up to grab Janice’s dagger arm. With her free hand, she grabs Janice by the leg and lifts. One heavy push takes Janice off her feet. Clover slams Janice onto the ground, knocking the wind out of her lungs. She pulls off Janice’s helmet and punches her once in the eye and another in the nose, breaking the latter with a satisfying crunch. “Look who’s ugly now,” says Clover. “Your corpse will have a crooked nose.”
Janice tries to pull her pistol up for a shot, but Clover slaps her hand away. The pistol goes flying into the crowd. Dazed, Janice leans her head back and whimpers something. She inhales and chokes on some blood, coughing up a mist all over her and Clover’s armor. Clover punches her again and gets up to grab her sword.
Clover picks up her weapon and engages the chain a couple times to clear the dirt from it. The chain moves freely, and Clover lets it climb up to full speed. She fights the weapon to hold it wide and straight, and then swings down at Janice’s head. “You ruined him,” says Clover, just loud enough over the sword.
Janice laughs and sprays more blood. “Ruined him? He was a fucking peasant. A good rut.”
“I loved him,” says Clover.
“You’re pathetic,” says Janice.
Clover swings her sword at Janice’s head. Janice lifts her dagger hand up, catching the oncoming weapon. The chain sword rips the end off the dagger, but misses its mark by a few centimeters. It cuts through Janice’s left cheek, carving a permanent smirk on her face. Howling in pain, Janice lets go of her dagger and holds her gauntlet up to her cheek. Blood pours out between her fingers, sputtering when she exhales, slurping when she inhales.
Bringing her sword up for another strike, she freezes when the priest shouts, “Hold!” Clover snarls, but she does as she’s told.
On the platform, next to the baroness, a messenger has arrived. He’s wearing a thick tunic worth twice the baroness’s jewelry. His arms and legs are wrapped in silk like the fashion of the Imperial Court. On his head, there’s a crimson helmet with a flat top and a visor that goes down over his eyes. From under the visor, he has an oiled and sculpted tuft of black hair that passes for a beard. Everything about the man, from his tailored boots and gloves worth almost as much as Clover’s armor, to how absurd he looks, screams one thing: the emperor speaks.
There is only one real reason why the emperor would send a messenger out this far to a system in the middle of nowhere. “This duel is over,” says Ystrelle. “Tell them,” she says, motioning to the messenger.
“War,” he begins. Clover doesn’t pay attention to the rest of what he has to say. The rest is just formality. Who Clover will be fighting. What reason, real or imagined, Clover has to fight. The rest is up to Ystrelle.
The baroness finishes the ceremony. The cyborg priest translates into Holy Speak, to mark the occasion. Ystrelle says, “I’m calling all of my knights. We serve the emperor.” She bows to a man, born of a bloodline far lower than hers. The messenger smirks as if it’s his place to be pleased. His eyes turn to the blood dripping from Clover’s chain sword, and his delicate beard begins to quiver. He might be getting sick. Disgusting.
“Her blood is mine to spill,” says Clover. It is her right. The ritual must be followed.
Ystrelle frowns, like a parent with a stupid child. “If you both survive what’s coming, you may pick up where you left off.”