"Now I'm going to come after you," Lakedi said. "Stand firm."
Dhaymin did as she instructed, taking a deep breath. Lakedi's footsteps receded into the distance as she stepped back. In ordinary terms, Dhaymin wouldn't have accepted an invitation like this. Jen was his trusted battle partner, not a stranger, host or not. But he had to accept, Lakedi had a little more experience than Jen in fighting those who could not see.
Unfortunately, she left a mark. Dhaymin rubbed at his shoulder, which had already started to bruise. It was no trouble - he'd taken far worse at his father's hands. But he'd have thought someone like her would try to be a little more gentle...
No time to ponder things. She was running, her feet pounding against the tiles. He listened - this was no Jen, to dodge. She'd see him, and she'd not miss a chance to waste her advantage. So he steeled himself, ready for the blow. "Once I touch you," she said, "you have the advantage, Use it!"
She collided, her hand snatching his shoulder - right where she'd grabbed him before. "Got you!" she shouted, as Dhaymin hissed at the pain in her grip. "Don't you think I'm going to go easy on you!" He pulled away, trying to release himself, but she was too strong for him. Another hand snatched his wrist as he flailed, trying to catch hold of her. He hissed again, as he felt the bones crunch...
"What's the matter? Think some bandit's going to give you hints?"
"No," he said, through clenched teeth, "but you gave me enough!"
Ignoring the pain, he pushed his entire weight against her. The motion took her by surprise, and she stumbled backwards, freeing his shoulder and arm. Dhaymin listened as hard as he could, over the thumping of his heart and his ragged breath. Where could she have gone? Immediately she answered, in her own wordless way - her hand snatched his ankle, and he stumbled in turn, only just catching his balance before she tugged, sending him to the floor in an undignified mess.
"I win again."
"Lovely," he said, brushing himself off, and feeling a few more spots that would bruise over come the next few hours. He rubbed his wrist and flexed it, one way, then the other. No permanent damage there, but plenty more bruising. Still, he'd been raised not to complain, and no matter his thoughts about his father, battle habits died hard. He got to his feet, ready for another round.
"That was better," Lakedi said. "Better, until you let go. If you had eyes, would you let an enemy out of your sight?"
"No," he said, realising his mistake. The second she'd fallen away from him, she'd been invisible.
"Correct," she said. "I had every chance to sneak up on you. I could have killed you. But until then, good. I had my hands on you, and you knew where I was, what I was doing. You can't reply on anything flashy, anything long-range. Stay close, stay touching."
"Yes," he said. His index finger twitched. He'd been a good shot once. Father complimented him on his aiming skills.
"Incidentally," she said, "you move as if you had an old injury to one leg. Intentional?"
"No," he said, testing his weight on his right leg. No pain - did it really show that much? Had he simply lost the ability to notice?
"It's not too noticeable," she said. "But be careful. People will think you an easy target as it is, that could add trouble if anyone does see. It's up to you to teach then better."
"Lakedi?" That was Ardea - Dhaymin had almost forgotten his presence, but right now, he could only be thankful Ardea couldn't see what was happening either. "That's enough. Now, may I speak to you?"
"If you want," Dhaymin said, straightening his clothes out.
"Then let me lean on you," Ardea said, "and we'll go."
Dhaymin had not known his host to have any more difficulties beyond his own blindness, but it soon became apparent when Ardea took his arm. The older man moved as if to lead, but he put his weight against Dhaymin in much the same way Dhaymin himself had done with Jen, in the early days. He moved slowly, not through caution, Dhaymin realised, for Ardea had always spoken of how well he knew his way around his city, but from his own past injury, whatever that might have been.
He led him through a few doors, and Dhaymin felt the tiles change yet again under his feet. He was starting to pick those up now. Eventually, Ardea took him into what sounded like a small room, from the still air and the echoless sounds, and toward a large, soft couch, bidding Dhaymin to sit. He did so, sinking into velvety cushions, easing himself down. "Ah," he said, "that's the thing. What's the occasion, then?"
"I thought we'd both benefit from a talk." The couch shifted as Ardea sat, and for a moment there was silence as his host likewise made himself comfortable.
Dhaymin thought back to Lakedi's comments, how Ardea had walked beside him, Unease rose, and he clasped his hands in his lap, his head lowered. "Shit," he said. "Listen, if this is about you and..." His words faltered, and his hands twitched. "Sorry. I know it's my brother normally says that to everyone, but..."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You know! The way you-" He paused again, grasping for words. He'd never been this lost before! Fuck it, he was going in. "You've obviously got it worse than me, so-"
"Ah. No. I'm not here to tell you not to be angry at yourself. And it matters nothing how torn up I am, or was. If anything, I'd wondered about you."
"Not if you don't want to say it. I understand. You know the story of Kastek, don't you?"
"Well, it is not hidden history," he said. "You know the city was founded as a monument to a terrible man, given power after battling the creatures that barred passage south on this road?"
"A bit," Dhaymin said, puzzled at the sudden turn, but letting Ardea continue.
"This was his monument to himself, one that he worked people day and night to build. We were friends, once; I was given power under him, that is how I rule today. When it became apparent he needed to be stopped, I was the one who went into the pyramid to destroy his efforts. I expected to die when he caught me. Let us say... I did not."
Dhaymin's hands twitched again. Damn it all, this was Jen's area, not his! "I'm sorry," he said. "But why tell me this? All sounds a little... personal?
"Personal? It's well known history," Ardea said. "But why tell you... well. Because I remember what it was like, when Lakedi saved me. Because I understand that whatever happened to you, it was as sudden as what happened to me. And I supposed, after all that, you might need to speak to someone who has been in the same places."
Dhaymin laid his hands flat on his knees, sitting again with his head down. "Don't know if I need it so much," he said. But he raised a hand to his face, touching the now familiar pattern of claws dragged through skin. They were rough to the touch, having healed ragged and uneven. "But thankyou."