His sword went flying.

There was a deathly silence.

Ifrit stabbed his own into the ground, and strode forward roughly.

He grabbed Nova by the front of his kita, looking down at him, with emptiness in his eyes.

He leaned down, so that his lips were by Nova's ear.

But no words were said.

He didn't say anything.

There weren't even any words said.

He didn't say anything.

" Nova, kill me," he said.

He pulled away, and smiled very gently, and he kissed Nova on the lips.

In the next second, he had pulled his short sword and Nova was barely able to move away from it.

Nothing was right.

Nothing was real.

His head was spinning.

Ifrit's sword glanced by his cheek, and he spun out of the way, barely, scrambling towards his own.

His movements were no longer practiced forms; they were overwhelming slashes and unrestricted lunges.

Oh, Nova thought. He's actually trying to kill me.

The tip of the sword skimmed his ear, cutting a tuft of fur and barely missing flesh, as he hurriedly grabbed his own blade off the ground and rolled to avoid a blow. He braced himself against his heel and flitted past Ifrit's back, barely blocking it when he swiveled and threw the short sword.

This wasn't a coming of age duel. Or a battle of succession. If he didn't kill him, he himself would die.

He had no time to think about it. He had no space in his mind to think anything. Nothing was happening in his mind.

Ifrit had asked to be killed.

Ifrit wanted it to be him.

If it was what he wanted, it was what Nova had to do. Because he'd never be forgiven if he lost. He'd never be forgiven if he let him live. He knew this in his heart.

He had to flip the power dynamic of the fight. Ifrit was controlling all of it. He had to make it his own. He had to make Ifrit defend against him. He'd never done so before.

He'd never felt so alive.

Was it because the only choice in this was death?

Live or be killed. Kill or die. His body didn't feel like his own anymore, and he didn't understand how he was using it. Every twist of his waist or ringing slice of his blade was like standing outside his own body and watching an animal inhabit it instead.

He parried a blow away and rapidly pulled his short blade to stab into Ifrit's diaphragm, between ribs. If it was lodged there, he'd be short of breath.

Hey, he wanted to say. Do you remember this blade? It was the first one you let me practice with.

But no words were said.

He knew that when he went to strike with his sword, that Ifrit would try to use his own to twist it out of his hand. He struck with the flat and slid down, redirecting the flow of force to push himself away instead. The yank of letting go of the short blade caused it to dislodge and Ifrit began to spit up blood.

It was barely a second before their blades met again. Nova slid off of his again and parried one, two, three blows, before being pushed down onto the ground. The blade glanced his side as he rolled to the side and launched himself back up.

It's okay, it won't leave a scar, he told himself, because Ifrit was silent.

He used the force to strike with his blade, almost too quickly for Ifrit to react; instead of gouging into his back, his arm was split open, blood gushing out of the vein the blade had traversed. It momentarily obscured Nova's sight, and he was barely able to dodge his own short blade being returned; an opportune swipe at his face.

If that wound was going to begin to heal, then he needed to finish the fight as soon as possible. Before he could recover his breath or regenerate the blood he was rapidly losing from the arm wound, which struggled to close.

Nova caught the short blade in his hand and yanked it away from Ifrit, feeling the cutting edge dig into his fingers.

It's okay, it won't scar, he told himself.

He blocked Ifrit's sword with the hilt of his own and twisted, forcing his wrist to maintain that position at risk of snapping, and took the short blade in his hand, and stabbed it through Ifrit's dominant wrist. The nerve damage would take more than a few minutes to heal, and his other arm was still bleeding out. He caught the flash of a grimace on his face.

He could hear the silence dissolving. He could tell other people were speaking. But the words didn't matter. It was past the point of other people being involved. They didn't matter.

Ifrit's blade released from his hand, shaking spasmodically, clattering to the ground. He immediately dove and went to get it with his right; Nova slid under him and slashed at his neck.

The sword came up behind him, and he could do nothing but dodge it again, rolling out of the way.

Was this it?

Singlemindedly killing each other?

This wasn't what he wanted.

This was his fault.

He was the only one to blame.

He didn't want to kill him.

He had to kill him. Because it was his fault.

If he had just been normal they could've had a normal duel and he could've just gotten a little scar on his shoulder and then Ifrit would've taken him away to the Silver Fleet and he wouldn't ever have to see his mother, he wouldn't ever have to put up with the hateful glares of Lorn or Diurn or Vivan or any of them. It could've just been him and Ifrit forever.

And it was his fault, he was the one who messed it up.

He was screaming and he didn't know he was screaming.

He was swinging his sword but he didn't know if it hit, yet at the same time, every nerve in his body was lit up, aware of everything, singlemindedly focused on the image of Ifrit, who, covered in blood, still looked every bit as graceful and elegant as he ever had.

The arm wound would close soon. He had to do something. He'd die if he didn't win. He wasn't sure what winning was anymore. He was scared of dying. Ifrit would be even more disappointed in him. He wouldn't be worth anything.

He ran, and leapt up, his knees colliding with shoulders, dragging Ifrit down.

And then, on the ground, with the blade, he-

" Nova, stop," he heard someone say. The haze was lifting. His mind wasn't clearing, but it was like he could feel other things again.

" Nova, stop," he heard someone say, begging. His shoulders were grabbed and pulled. He was being dragged. Who else was on the arena floor? The duel wasn't over yet.

There was a sickening unsteadiness to it. Nausea and pain permeated his body. He recognized the hands holding him as Kaama's.

" Nova, he's dead," he heard him say.


His own throat was too raw to speak. Even breathing hurt.

He could see the body.

Did I do that? he wondered, not sure if he was awake or in a dream.

He could see the head.