“Clear us some room, gentlemen,” said Antio, though the tavern patrons were already pushing benches and tables aside before he completed the request. The air in the great room, typically heady with spiced meats, spilt ale, and strumpets’ perfume, took on a different tang as space cleared around the black-garbed man with the eyepatch and his foe, the finery-clad alchemist Banx. This new current in the room’s swirl was much deeper and earthier; the scent of impending violence personally offered and immediately accepted.
Banx had begun simply enough, entering the tavern like he owned it and calling out Urist for his scurrilous personal defamation-in-song. Antio claimed to be employing Urist, and Banx had no recourse but to challenge Antio on the spot. Antio had smiled grimly at the social trap sprung on the alchemist, but Banx could afford to show no fear.
Per the rules of Magnimar’s elite, Antio chose the time. He chose the immediate. As the patrons moved furniture for fighting room, both men proceeded with the acquisition of seconds. Banx had brought a half-dozen bodyguards, selecting one as his man for the duel. Colhad was ready before Antio even looked his direction, and responded only with a jut of his chin and single nod.
And now Banx took full advantage of his right as challenger, selection of the weapon. A box was produced, fine dark wood whorled in deep rings and a skillfully tooled pattern. It was a shame that something so beautiful should hold such deadly instruments. For within the box lay two knives. Not typical knives, however. These were single-edged razors. Each was 6 inches of gleaming honed steel with a sheepsfoot point, delicate in a fashion that belied the danger of the cut, on straight handles polished bright to complement the blade. They were tools of pain, chisels in the kit of a sculptor in flesh. The divine dedicated devices of Norgorber—Father Skinsaw himself. And Antio was offered his choice.
Antio had fought many duels. His upbringing in Korvosa effectively ensured it. He was no stranger to this style of blade, and he had expected to be denied his heavier rapier regardless. Still, he heard Lilliayn’s mental gasp as he examined the razor.
Be careful, my love, she breathed in his mind. This is a thing of evil you hold. Take care how you use it.
I understand, he acknowledged. Right this moment, though, I don’t much care. Now would be a good time for Iomedae to show me something.
I don’t mock, he replied. I’m going to kill this man. If Iomedae wants it done a certain way, now’s the time for her to let me know.
Justice, not vengeance, came the reply. But the timbre of Lilliayn’s voice had changed. This response of hers carried her tone, but rang in a deeper part of his mind, sparking a warmth behind his eyes that flared into his chest. Only a moment, a clean, crisp moment of silver clarity, and it was gone. Antio could not name it, but it was something, and there was no time now to contemplate.
“Up, then, sir,” said Banx, and Antio’s full focus bore on his foe.
Across the space between the men Antio darted, the razor coming across his body and into a slashing backhand that took Banx along the cheekbone below one eye before the man could bring up a guard. Antio followed by stepping in close to Banx, inside the usual swing and in tight for knifework, but Banx’ own skill with the small blade paired with his wincing retreat to pull Antio off balance.
Banx swung clumsily in recovery, blinking against the sting as blood welled from his cheek, and Antio regained his balance in time to catch Banx’ wrist and twist hard to the man’s outside. Trying to move in the unnatural direction of the twist sent Banx’ feet wrong, and Antio swept his leg, sending the alchemist to the ground.
Banx was back on his feet in moments, though now Antio could see the fear in the man’s eye. The alchemist had underestimated the night’s danger, and knew he was undone. With a shriek of blended rage and fear and zealous exultation, the alchemist flung himself at Antio, swinging madly, and Antio kicked him hard in the cods, doubling Banx over and backward.
In half a heartbeat, conflict surged in Antio. He wanted to keep this going. Banx was no fighter. But he worshiped death. He wanted death. His mad charge demonstrated as much. And Antio could deny it, for a time. Antio could keep flinging him around the room until the man was broken and sobbing. He was momentarily reminded of a twisted joke he’d heard in his youth:
“Hurt me,” said the masochist, to which the sadist replied, “no.”
He could bleed Banx slow. He could assess penance to this fiend, this creature, this taker of life. He could hurt him savagely, and prolong the agony, making Banx feel every moment, denying him death until the fiend’s body simply could not continue.
Justice, not vengeance.
It cut through the red behind Antio’s eye and snapped him to focus. There was only one proper path here, as much as he might momentarily want another.
The heartbeat complete, Antio slid to his knees, following Banx to the ground. Before the alchemist could recover himself, Antio reversed his grip on the razor and stabbed it point-down into Banx’ throat. Indeed, he felt the razor’s drooping point crunch through trachea and between vertebra before sinking an inch into the wooden floorboard beneath.
Banx thrashed, his feet and hands flying out straight and drumming into the floor, his body’s response to the improvised spike fixing him in place. His face reddened and he feebly choked out a trickle of blood as Antio skittered away from the man’s death spasm. Banx caught his eye in the final moment, and Antio watched as it glazed over and the alchemist’s body gave a final sagging rattle.
Antio climbed to his feet and stepped to look down at the now dead Banx. He regarded his fallen foe a moment, then turned his good eye on Banx’ bodyguard-second.
“You tell his friends I’m going to line them all up beside him,” he growled.
And he turned for the bar, leaning on it to reach for his tankard, hoping his hand wouldn’t shake as he took a victory pull.