Something was wrong.

Ifrit wasn't speaking. His expression was indecipherable.

Nova was nervous to face him after so long. He was scared to fight in front of so many people. He could feel the nobility gazing down on him. He could see Lorn and Lorhe looking down. Their expressions were as cold as ever.

He had to believe that if he just did the best he could, that Ifrit would acknowledge him, that things would go back to normal.

Ifrit raised his sword, and Nova, recognizing his stance, mirrored it in his own.

There was a small, quiet moment, where he looked into Ifrit's eyes, expecting to see some sort of determination, anger, or even calmness.

There was only sorrow.

He had no time to contemplate it. Ifrit took the first step, and he had to carry through.

He realized that this was the first scripted exchange he'd practiced with Ifrit. He retraced his own steps, repeating it. He then shifted it to the second.

And so, their opening exchange was like nothing but a formality. Ifrit had yet to break a sweat. He was completely in control of the fight's rhythm. Nova could feel Lorn glowering at him from up high.

Ifrit's own eyes were lifeless. And looking beyond him.

Nova's hand slipped.