Alexis's head popped above the water. The luangi dropped off her face again, and joined the many others in the pool. She swiftly climbed out.
She had put the claws in a separate pouch on her belt. Unfortunately her cheese in one of the other pouches was now completely soggy. Alexis went ahead and ate the rest. Although it made her gag.
Again she made her way silently back through the endless halls, as fast as she could go. She had a personal issue to deal with, and hopefully before anything could happen to the others.
A couple hours later she was hiding in the shadows when they appeared. She had followed the vents again, back to the chambers on the third level where she had seen Slorda's menservants, and dropped down, careful to be quiet. Moments later Slorda had appeared in a nearby chamber, just a few blocks from the room where Alexis had found the vials. Almost immediately the menservants had appeared as well.
“Don't worry about her. She hasn't been heard from for at least five hours. I suspect Ninon has taken care of her.”
“But the vials are missing.”
“Missing? How can they be missing? What did you do with them?” Slorda demanded, her monstrous tone turning ugly.
Together the menservants began to stammer. “We left them on the table! When we came back, they were gone. Someone must be doing some clandestine work, milady,” they stuttered nervously. They had considered fear.
“You need to find those vials at whatever cost, or I promise you will suffer for your mistake,” there was a cold, certain edge to Slorda's merciless voice. She knew very personally how to ensure that.
“Yes, Milady,” they both chimed anxiously, bowing before the swiftly turned away.
Slorda turned and hustled wrathfully away, and the servants turned down a different corridor. Moments later Alexis stepped out to follow them.
Within minutes they were lost. They must have taken the odd halls. Of course they wouldn't go back to their usual room—they would have turned it upside down already.
Alexis stopped. It was the softest sound, but her whole body tensed into immediate readiness. She turned just as Ninon lunged from the shadows. Wolvring leapt out and their blades met with a grinding clash.
“Don't you ever die?” Ninon hissed angrily.
“I can guarantee you now is not the time,” Alexis answered , brutally responding to her attack with a lunge of her own. Their swords clashed, and they swung and struck at each other madly. Wolvring sang and rasped against Ninon's sword with a frenzied fury.
Alexis kicked her back, and Ninon glared as she briefly hunched in pain. Then she reached over her shoulder and unsheathed another sword. The twin blades gleamed hungrily. Alexis watched her warily.
Ninon leapt forward, and Alexis rushed to meet her. Wolvring swung both ways to fend off the attack, and she twirled as she swiped at Ninon's middle. Ninon leapt back, then immediately whirled forward, swinging the blades.
Alexis dodged and swung, then did an over-cut and slammed Wolvring down on the blade closest to her. Ninon staggered from the blow, and Alexis took advantage of the moment and viciously punched her in the face with Wolvring's pommel.
Ninon cried out and snarled. Ninon feinted a strike and kicked Alexis viciously in the middle, and punched her down as Alexis doubled.
Alexis collapsed to the floor, and looked up just in time to see Ninon raise her sword for the decisive strike. Alexis whipped up Wolvring and rolled swiftly away. Ninon snarled with enraged annoyance, and advanced. Alexis leapt to her feet and faced her. Ninon lunged forward, and their blades sparked as they clashed, the force driving Ninon's sword into the wall next to Alexis's neck.
Alexis grabbed Ninon's wrist and twisted it viciously, and Ninon cried out and dropped her blade, wresting the other from the wall as she lurched back. Alexis instantly stepped forward and hit the base so hard it was knocked from Ninon's grasp.
Alexis kicked them both away.
Ninon fell to her knees and stayed there, quivering. Alexis wasn't sure if it was from rage, fear, or shame. Maybe all.
“Why do you not attack me?” Alexis asked seriously, regarding her.
“I am defeated,” Ninon said in her even tones, but behind that Alexis could sense her shame and anger. “My enemy has captured my sword. I am dismantled, shamed. In punishment I am bound to accept any doom from you.” She said this with vehement passion in her voice. “Do unto me as seems well to you.”
Alexis continued to regard her for a moment. She couldn't help but feel some respect. “There is no shame in defeat. There is shame in cowardliness, in cheating. Not being beaten.”
Ninon looked up at Alexis, with something akin to interest—and, yes, even respect in her eyes. “Nevertheless I will follow the custom of my people.”
Alexis thought deeply for a moment. How many people that she had fought had such honor? And what was there truly between them?
Alexis went and picked up the swords. She then went down on one knee to look Ninon in the eyes. For a moment they just silently stared at each other.
“I do not believe you serve Slorda out of complete willingness,” Alexis said. “You are no Raven. And you have, in your people's way, proven yourself to be noble. I have no wish to kill you.” Alexis stood back up. “I will give you back your swords, only under your solemn oath that you will leave off serving people that don't deserve your aid. And that you will leave off your unfinished mission, and return to where you belong.”
Ninon unblinkingly returned her steady gaze. “I accepted Slorda for her promise—the return of our land. I only wanted the best for my people.” Behind her strong pride there was a weary wistfulness in her voice.
“Man has done wrong on both sides. I pray in the end justice will be served you,” Alexis said with sincerity. “Take your swords. I hope we may meet again on more peaceful terms.” She held them out to her.
Ninon stood and sheathed them. For a moment she stood looking at Alexis, as one worthy warrior assessing another.
“We travel different paths and beliefs, Athondul, but you have shown yourself a worthy opponent, and I will remember you with utmost respect. May we meet again.” And with that Ninon turned and was gone.