The entire evening, Nova was hovering around him. He did not portray anything but seething harshness in his gaze, but now William realized it was of anxiety.

He supposed that Nova did not want to go home.

" So, Nova. This is a duel by traditional imperial rules, isn't it?" he asked.

" Yes," Nova answered shortly.

" What's the win condition? And what weapons are we allowed to use? What's considered a foul?"

Nova bristled.

" You rushed into accepting it without even considering those things?!" he demanded angrily.

" Ah, so you are a bit fond of me, aren't you?" William asked, the fact that it was meant to be teasing evident.

I think you're an idiot throwing away your life for no reason," Nova snapped. " The winning condition is to cause a permanent scar on the opponent's body, but it's not against the rules to kill your opponent."

" You've not lost one before?" William asked, sitting forward and looking at Nova with interest.

" Of course not. Duels are used to determine who the Crown will go to. If I were to lose, I'd lose my position," he answered. " I admit, I've killed two of my brothers in combat. And shamed all the rest."

" You have many, then?"

" Queen Mother keeps herself busy," he said, and then suddenly changed topic. " On the note of weaponry... You're allowed one sword and a dagger. There's no condition for a foul, either."

William leaned back, as though thinking.

" What about clothing?" he asked.

Nova gave him a harsh look.

" Just wear formal clothes or something. There aren't restrictions on it," he said, incredulous.

" Thank you for the information, Nova," he praised.

" ... Lyena-Nova," Nova corrected.

William gave him a lengthy stare, evaluating him.

" Your brother said I look like a child," he said after a moment. " Do I?"

" He was exaggerating. You look like a short teenager, at most," Nova said. " I would've said 18 or so."

A pause.

" I'm 22, you know."

" Interesting information. I think I'm about 45 in your years."

"... You look my age."

" Developmentally, I am. You should account for the difference in species, Masterson. You know, Diurn is almost 80."

" It's hard to remember until you stand up."

" ... God, you are worryingly small. Diurn's going to kill you."

" You think so?"

William leaned forward again, looking into him.

" Of course. I've fought him three times before, and spectated eight of his other matches."

" Are you going to tell me not to fight him, again, then?"

" I still believe you should withdraw, yes."

" Is it because you care about me, or because you'd rather not be honour-bound to return to your empire?" William asked, scanning his face.

He could see Nova's brow twitch.

" Why should I have any reason to care about you? I just think you're throwing your life away senselessly."

" Is that so?"

" You're hopelessly, comically weak. A moderate breeze could crush you. You can't even stand up straight half the time. The thought of you holding a sword would be comical if it weren't for the fact that you'd be eviscerated within seconds. You're going to put a dent in my honour by wasting yourself so needlessly."

" That would be a shame, wouldn't it," William said. " But it's got a nice sense of poetic irony, all things considered."

He deliberately alluded to Thrace, seeking a reaction, and received none.

Nova huffed, covering his face.

" God, you're going to die," he said. " That little cadet who's rae for you is going to throw herself on your funeral pyre."

Ah, that was...

" Well! If I'm going to die tomorrow, then I really need to clear that up, don't I?" William said suddenly, voice loud. He stood up. " It's late, and I need to go sleep, but... Really, Nova, I don't have any such intentions towards her, or Kirie, or any other woman on the ship, for that matter. So don't go around accusing me of being a womanizer anymore, alright?"

" You can't tell me what to do."

" Good night, Nova."

" Fuck off. And withdraw from the duel."


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