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I could barely breathe. The kicked-up dust from the unpaved area made my throat raw and sore, forcing me to swallow painfully. A fine coat of grime covered my hair and shoulders, rasping against my hands. But I couldn’t let that distract me.

He lunged at me, his wooden practice sword arching down, aiming for the curve of my shoulder. He was close enough that I knew I couldn’t duck or dodge it, so I swung my left arm up, blocking it with a steady movement, pushing his weapon down and back. I dashed forward, purposefully letting my sword dangle behind me as I got ever closer. He always favored his right side so I feigned a blow to his right leg. He was ready to parry it, but at the last second I twisted my wrist before gripping the hilt of the sword with both hands and slammed it into the left part of the ribs.

It would’ve been a killing shot if these swords were anything more than blunt sticks. He stumbled back, faltering for one moment. I aimed for his sternum, which he easily stepped back to avoid. I pushed forward again, slashing at his weak side.

He could barely keep up. His left hand was pressed against his bruised ribs as his other arm frantically twisted around to block my blows. He couldn’t beat me with one arm.

Just as he thought I was going to push forward and attack again, I ducked down and sweeped my foot out in a low kick, hitting the behind of his rigid knees. He buckled, not expecting the move. I lashed out again, jabbing him in the stomach.

The force of my jab was just enough to topple him over his unsteady legs. He fell unceremoniously onto his butt, his wooden sword clattering to the ground behind him, too far to reach.

I stood up in one airy movement and pointed the used tip of the sword to his throat, barely grazing his chin.

“Oh shut up,”he grumbled, reaching behind him to grab the fallen sword.

“I didn’t say anything,” I bit down on my lip to stifle my laughter, dropping the sword to my side and extended a hand instead. He took it without thinking twice, pulling himself up.

His hand was rough, calloused in all the right places from the years of training. Mine didn’t look any better, coarsened and sooty. Mud was underneath my uneven cuticles and I let go, stepping away from him.

I pulled at my collar, desperately trying to get any cool air to coat my sticky skin. Just after a quick round of sword-fighting, my skin buzzed with adrenaline, a thin layer of sweat already covering my forehead and neck. Despite it being nearly winter now, the heat was still unbearable at noon. The rainforest was unforgiving.

Author Notes: here's another excerpt of another long-term project of mine called "empress" for now, maybe i'll change the name when i find something more creative :)

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28 Jan, 2021
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