The battle had grown distant, now no more than the echo of far-off thunder and occasional vibrations up from the ground. It was almost poetic, Miyamoto thought idly, the motions of the air and earth and fire that swirled through the city hours ago and were now but shadows of that fury.
The wind was a soft whisper of sighs, kicking up dust and the distant smell of smoke and oil. The swordsman kneeled, back straight and sitting on his carefully stacked ankles, with his hands relaxed on his legs just above the knees. His long, loose hakama was smooth, tucked in at the sides, and his loose robe was adorned with a pattern of pink flowers from a tree he had never personally seen. His sugegasa, a modern metal reproduction of an ancient farming hat, was low over his closed eyes.
In the dim sunlight
The colours and scents of war
Seem so far away
The crunch of heavy boots on rubble drew his mind away from haiku and back to the present.
The five soldiers, knights of a ridiculous PanOceanian order, marched around the corner and froze the moment they saw him.
He tilted his head towards the leader of the group, his eyes still closed. Ah, an easy error to make. Four knights of some ludicrous PanO order, and her.
“Hello, Miyamoto,” said Jeanne d’Arc, her eyes narrowing as she saw the kneeling swordsman. What the hell was he doing here? And guarding the door to the armoury, no less! He had chosen his spot perfectly, of course, exactly close enough that he wouldn’t be seen among the ruins and rubble of the city until he was almost right on top of anyone who wandered too close.
Like she and her knights had.
“Hello, Jeanne,” he responded, slowly standing with a smile. He carefully patted his legs through the hakama, knocking a few small clouds of dust off. “Lovely day for a little war, isn’t it?”
They both chuckled, but Jeanne’s mind was whirling. He was too damn close! If she ordered the Hospitaliers to open fire, he’d be on them before the words were out of her mouth. It was a minor miracle he hadn’t closed the scant five meters between them already. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to stand somewhere else?”
“Sorry, no.” Miyamoto’s voice was heavy with regret. “I don’t suppose you could.” He tilted his head upwards, the brim of his hat raising to allow him to see her eye-to-eye.
Jeanne took a step backwards with her left foot, and rotated her torso such that her right shoulder pointed straight towards Miyamoto. She opened her right hand, flexing the muscles, listening to the microhydraulics clicking smoothly.
Miyamoto bent his knees and slid his left foot forward, the entire move hidden under the long folds of the hakama. It was, after all, why the hakama was designed that way. Long enough that with a modest bend at the knees the feet were invisible, short enough that there was no risk of tripping over them.
He closed his eyes.
Jeanne rushed forward, her footsteps throwing up small puffs of dust, left-right-left, while drawing Benedicta with her right hand and using her left on the sheath to speed the blade’s leap into the air towards him. He countered with his short wakizashi, the swords clashing against each other, twisting to allow the long katana to slash upwards towards her neck.
Jeanne closed her eyes.
She dashed forward, three quick steps, and then a broad horizontal slash to cut Miyamoto in half… but no, Miyamoto saw that coming, and drew his short sword with his left, parrying her blow while slashing hip-to-shoulder with his katana.
A different approach, then. She shifted her weight onto her back foot, digging her heel into the concrete. The loose gravel crunched softly.
Miyamoto’s upward slash was intercepted by her throwing her shoulder into his torso, using her armour’s augmented strength and mass to push him off balance. While he staggered Jeanne reversed her slash and cut down overhead, dividing him into two slightly unequal halves that were both equally dead.
Her subtle shift in stance meant she was going to use her augmented strength against him. A shoulder block would be most direct, Miyamoto mused, eyes still closed. He transferred his weight to his back foot, the toes of his front foot now barely in contact with the broken concrete.
Her shoulder approached his torso and he leapt backwards, rolling across his back and returning to his feet in one, smooth motion. Benedicta swung through empty air, and she grit her teeth as the swing was reversed. Miyamoto sprinted forward with quick steps, both swords held behind until he lashed the katana through a flicking cut, leaving a glowing afterimages as it sliced towards her.
She parried, the flat of Benedicta’s blade vertical across her left forearm. The strength of Miyamoto’s blow torqued her upper body to the right, and she allowed the momentum to spin her away. The short wakizashi raked across the armour plating over her stomach, but the spin minimized the strength of the blow.
She launched herself into the air, twisting her legs to rotate through a jumping downward cut. A lesser duelist would be too slow in the air and easily cut while their back was turned, but Jeanne was not a lesser duelist. Underestimating her was a mistake you made just once. Only a complete master would attempt to out-rotate her, parrying up as she brought her sword down.
Their eyes flicked back and forth underneath their eyelids while the distant rumble of artillery, the nervous shuffling of the four knights as they scanned the surroundings, and the taste of ash and dust on the air circulated around them.
Jeanne sighed, and they both opened their eyes. She rotated her neck a few times, trying to get the knots out.
“Lovely to see you again, Miyamoto,” she said with a nod, turning to her squad. “Let’s keep moving, men. Maybe we can find another way in.”
“A pleasure as always, Jeanne,” Miyamoto responded, kneeling carefully on the ground. “Do say hello to mom for me.”
“She misses you, you know,” Jeanne said over her shoulder.
“I imagine she does.”
The footsteps of the five PanO soldiers receded, and Miyamoto drew in a long breath through his nose.
A silent city
A knight steps in the city
Clang! Silence again.