He clung to Nova as they walked through the crowd of people filtering into the stands; it felt horrible, actually, to be so much smaller than everyone around him, a sea of strangers.
" Where were you this morning?"
" I was talking with Lesa."
" What'd she have to say? More absurd talk of usurping my position?"
" She seems to think well of you, Nova."
" Ha. Never would've guessed that."
" You're so cynical."
" I have a right to be!"
This agreement did not come off as agreement in tone.
They sat down in the front. The stadium, as it were, looked very old. William could feel Irdat glaring at them from over on the other side of it, though with the distance, she was only visible because of her dress.
The emperor himself, taller than even Diurn had been, came out onto the stadium floor. He said nothing, simply placing his sword in front of himself.
Lesa came out from the other side, and stood in front of him.
" I am the Lyeha-Lesa, of Lorhe-Irdat. Lorn-Fausta, esteemed and divine, I challenge your right to know all things of me. On behalf of Lyena-Nova, accept my self-definition through this trial of flesh, and let me be reforged."
" I accept."
His voice was deep, booming, and William realized that it reminded him of himself in tone. Cold.
The first thing he did was unsheathe his sword, and then lunge forward; Lesa's first move was, accordingly, to jump backwards, half-circle round him, evaluatory. Properly evasive and cautious.
" You call to fight, then do not fight?" Fausta yelled over at her.
" I will fight!" she yelled in response. It did not alter her movement pattern, as she had seen through his attempt to rattle her with words.
" You will not even submit to all that you are good for, and yet claim to want to reach above that."
He rushed forward again, and the spark of metal caught between them, as Lesa blocked his sword with her own. She twisted out of the blow, and herself went past him, turning on her heel to strike his back. His free hand sailed back and struck her across the face; she was knocked off of her feet and flew a bit away from him, barely recovering so much as to not land completely off balance.
" Now all I will have is a dead niece, and many failures of nephews," he said, stalking over. " Look up to see what has condemned you. It is the corruption that former Lyena spread in his time."
She pulled a dagger and drove it into his ankle before he could raise his sword.
" I refuse!"
She pulled herself up close to him, and he drove his sword through her torso, but she in turn did the same, gritted teeth, blood falling from her mouth.
" I refuse you, Fausta! I refuse Irdat! I will only listen to the ones who gave me light. If Lesa is the child that was borne, I will no longer be Lesa!"
She kicked him squarely and pulled herself off the blade with the momentum of it. Thick, oily blood splashing down onto the ground.
He did not say anything, but moved to strike again. She parried the blow, blood seeping from how tightly she gripped the hilt of her own sword, cried out from the effort of it as she slid backwards, straining.
... It was obvious that in a straight contest of strength, she would not win. This was something William had told her many times. Even for her age, though she had gained a little height during her time with the DASS, she was short and thin. He could see her arms buckling back because of his power, and despite the ferocity of her expression, pain was becoming evident on her features as well.
She let up very suddenly, and was knocked back against the stadium wall with a very severe crack; the stone tumbled down around her, plumes of dust. Her sword had been knocked out of hand.
" You see what happens to children who disobey me?"
He approached the wall, and grabbed her by her hair.
" You are like he was," he said. " Inside of you there is rot."
She did not speak, blood falling to the ground, limp; but her arms slowly came up, and she gripped his wrist.
" I have discarded my rot," she said. " I have carved it out of me. I will become the sword fresh from the crucible. I need no sword because I am one. I will defeat you, and become Lyena, and as Lyena I will be my own blade, as well..." Her words were quiet, mumbled, hard to hear. Her claws were dug into his wrist and drawing blood, but his expression remained one of pity and contempt.
" ... Throwaway child."
She used his wrist to sling herself up, hit him with the metal accent on her kita, swiveled to land her legs on his upper arm, wrenched her head from his grip by twisting his arm, and in the next moment pulled herself up to his neck. She raised her hand, claws flexed, and dug it into his eye with a scream.
" Remember that it was I who did this! I'm the first one of your heirs to scar you! I was the one who made this mark!"
Taken aback by and overwhelmed by pain, he tore at her, and stabbed, and in short order had grabbed her by the leg and thrown her.
... His eye had still been in her hand, nerve and all.
... So the stands were completely silent, because Lesa had won.