Author’s Note: I admit to struggling with writing action sequences. It’s not something I enjoy or can sort out well. I try, but I always have my doubts about these kind of things.
Time your steps properly. Do not act without thinking of the outcome. One cut is not a victory. One victory is not a war.
She had not wanted to consider what she did war, not ever, and she’d never wanted to kill, but she could not ignore her trainer’s words, not now. She might have the advantage of a blade, and Agache had, despite his lingering injuries, the advantage of his own training—if she was able to soar with footwork, so was he—but if she were to make the wrong move against Malzhi, she could end up giving that advantage away, even hurting Agache when she meant to stop Malzhi.
The minister managed to get close enough to Agache to seize his arm, and Agache grunted, struggling as he attempted to free himself. With his arm twisted, pushing against the more recent wound to his side, Agache could do little against the minister, who laughed with his supposed triumph. She knew the fight had shifted in Malzhi’s favor with the discovery of that weakness. She had to get to Agache before Malzhi could hurt him further.
He jerked his head up, turning toward her. His eyes caught the blade, and he glared at her. Agache turned in his grip, and Malzhi shoved him away, toward the wall. Agache hit the stone, trying to force himself back to his feet with his good arm. Malzhi looked to Agache, and she figured he saw him as a bigger threat, even with the blade in her hands. He turned his back on her and went for Agache.
Malzhi was a fool. She threw the blade, and though it landed off mark because he’d leaned down toward Agache, it hit, causing him to snarl. She went forward, ready to reclaim the knife, but he anticipated her, knocking her down when she put her hand on the hilt. She had to smile, though, as he had helped her remove the dagger from his back with what he’d done.
She wrapped her legs around his ankles, yanking his legs out from under him and knocking him to the ground. She moved forward the instant he was down, climbing over Malzhi and putting her blade to his neck. He frowned at her as she pressed the blade down against his skin, making it draw blood. She gave the blade a glance and then shoved it into his shoulder. She could disable him, and she would. That was all she needed. She would keep him from Agache, and then he would get away from here, go regroup with the resistance, and they would continue their fight. She didn’t care what happened to her now. Let it be war with her homeland. Her death would be enough to stop both the king and Malzhi because the tension and fighting between them had caused enough casualties to make the land vulnerable to invasion.
Her father’s troops should be able to take the city and then the castle with little trouble. They were not quite as trained as an esibani, but they were trained.
She withdrew her blade and forced it into his other shoulder. Malzhi cursed her. “Gizchien.”
She laughed. “No. Esibani.”
He snarled, but he was unable to react. She could have kept disabling him, making his legs as useless as his arms, but the movement she’d heard behind her was not Agache rising. She was yanked away from Malzhi, her wrist twisted near to breaking as she was dragged close to the king.
“You are worse than a gizchien. I should have snapped your neck when you first came here. You were never fit to be my bride.”
“As if you know what to do with a woman,” she said, turning the blade so that she could almost use it against him despite the hold that he had on her wrist. She could not do much damage like this, but she didn’t think that was what she needed just yet. “I do not think that you have anything that can deal with a woman, do you?”
He pushed her wrist further, and she knew it would have snapped if not for the voice that distracted him.
“No, I do not believe he does.”
Agache. He was awake. She’d thought that Malzhi had managed to knock him hard enough to cause him to lose consciousness, but he was back on his feet. She let out a breath in relief.
“Cousin. At last you show yourself. I knew that you were not dead.”
“You did not. If I had not fooled you, I would not have shocked you so much just now.”
“I can’t believe you let him live,” Malzhi said, glaring at the king. “You’re supposed to be this terrifying leader, someone we all feared and despised, but with all your cruelty, you never could turn against your blood, could you?”
“If you assume it had anything to do with loyalty, you are a fool,” Agache said, his look dark as he started toward his cousin. “It might have had to do with blood, though. That much might be true. Why don’t you tell him why I survived? Or will you admit to that? Will you confess the mistake that you made?”
Jis took a breath and struck, pushing her blade into the king’s side. The wound could be fatal, she had not gone for a simple disable, but she did not know that she had a choice. He growled, his arm moving toward her. She tried to dodge, but the blow connected, sending her back to the floor. She hadn’t expected it, thought she was clear, and the knife fell when she did.
Malzhi snorted, rising, and she saw him lurching toward Agache even as she started for the dagger that the king was already headed toward. He stepped on her hand, and she cried out, knowing it was about to break.
Agache went for the king instead of Malzhi, knocking him back and off of her hand. Malzhi, though, seemed determined to kill Agache this time, kicking the blade away from her as he caught Agache’s back, pulling him away from his cousin.
She forced herself up, watching the fight for where she should intervene. Agache could not win against both of them, but she could not find an opening. She turned to look for the dagger, and then she found herself once again on the ground, slammed there by the king. He put his hand on her neck and started to squeeze.
She choked, needing a way to free herself from his grip, and somehow a scream passed through her lips as the blade connected with her side. She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, and she had almost nothing left when something pulled the king off of her. She blinked, not understanding what she was seeing. She’d thought it was Agache, but no, Agache was on the ground, not moving, and Malzhi had been the one to take the king off of her.
They struggled, twisting and grunting, angry snarls passing between them. The king tried to force Malzhi over the edge of the balcony, but the minister would not let go. If she could get closer, she could unbalance one of them, but she could not move.
The king slammed Malzhi against the rail, and he was about to finish pushing him over when Malzhi’s weight took them both over the edge. She frowned, not sure she’d seen right, but then the pain in her side grew worse, and she lost herself to the darkness.