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Keep Up Your Bright Swords

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The League of Assassins had made a business from natural inclination. As such, they had tended to run a surplus. In dissolution, their funds were more than enough to cover a commodious suite, even in one of Hong Kong’s most opulent hotels. A youth immured in Nanda Parbat’s cloistered stone left Nyssa averse to the superflux of space. But a caravanserai on a journey from nowhere in particular to nowhere in particular, someplace else, might as well be a light and airy one.

Nyssa was sitting cross-legged on the bedroom floor, when a soft knock at the door that linked the adjoining living-room to the corridor broke in upon her evening meditation. Room service, as earlier requested. Nyssa called her assent, and filled her lungs once more.

The far door opened and closed. A trolley squeaked. Nyssa listened; frowned; and was very still.

“Your footfalls are those of a warrior, not a maid,” she said. For all the perpendicular urban glories beyond its windows, Nyssa had picked the suite because of the internal sight-lines, not the scenery: the living-room, from where she sat, was largely visible in a mirror. The figure there – by accident, or, more likely, by design – was somewhat obscured behind the trolley’s bulk. But Nyssa saw no bows, guns, or accomplices. “I could pretend that I am not aware; you could affect to be taken in by that. Such chicanery would shame us both.” Nyssa rose, and drew her sword from its scabbard on the rug. “I enter now, blade in hand.”

“I await you.”

The quiet voice tugged at Nyssa’s memory. When she stepped into the room beyond, the lithe figure that faced her was no surprise.

“Tatsu. It’s been a while.” Nyssa glanced at the trolley. “What happened to the maid?”

“She went home early, amply recompensed.” Tatsu’s katana, too, was drawn. “My apologies for the imposture. It was needful, to ensure that you would not flee.”

“If you thought I would flee, you do not know me, Tatsu.”

The katana was steady. “I know you, Ra’s Al Ghul.”

“That is not my name. The League is gone, as are its ways.”

“Are they?” Tatsu kicked the trolley to one side. “I handed you the Lotus, to aid Oliver Queen. You sold what was given freely, for a friend. That was a deed without honour, Ra’s Al Ghul.”

Nyssa flushed.

“I told you, then, I had nowhere else to be. Do you have somewhere else to be now, Ra’s Al Ghul?”

Nyssa lifted her sword, and stepped forward. “I do not.”

***

Nyssa had been right. The bout did take ages. Around the duellists, the shadows lengthened. The darting blades dipped in a palette of white, then gold, then red. Far below, office workers began and finished their commutes, heedless of the brawl fought out above them.

In the end, exhaustion broke the stalemate. Tatsu, somehow, found it in her to end her latest flurry with a kick. Nyssa missed the forearm block (too tired… too slow…). Reeling from the impact of the blow, she could not shake off grogginess in time to keep up with the intricate blade-work that Tatsu unfurled now to snare her. Another stinging pass, and her blade was lost; a swift kick to the kneecap, and she fell. No sword or strength or spirit to fight on. No League, no honour; and no Sara.

“End it,” she whispered, when the drumming in her veins would let her speak. “That is your right. You have broken me even as I broke my word: for that dishonour, Tatsu, I am truly sorry. End it, now.”

Nothing from her opponent, for long moments, but shuddering breath. The ebbing light from the windows would have told Nyssa, had she not known already, that the bout had tried Tatsu, as well, to the very limits of her strength: her sword-arm was all of her that did not tremble. More brightness slipped from the walls before she spoke:

“I will kill in battle, but I will not end a vanquished foe. A life is a great gift – greater, far, than the Lotus ever was. One such as I am cannot be worthy to take it.”

Tatsu sheathed her sword. She dropped to her knees, spent and graceful as an autumn leaf, and looked Nyssa in the eyes.

“I had a husband, once. I had a son. I lost one of them; I killed the other. The Order of the Lotus gave me meaning, for a while. I sinned against them – a sin I do not regret. I am nothing, now.”

“May the vanquished offer her victor a suggestion?” Nyssa steadied her voice against the dryness of her throat, the thin shriek of exhausted sinew.

Tatsu nodded.

“This world should always have a place for a thing of power and… and of beauty such as you. If this world does not, it’s time to build another.”

Tatsu contemplated Nyssa gravely for the space of several heartbeats. Then she leaned forward, and kissed her on the lips.

“That is a truth that another should think on, Nyssa Al Ghul.”

Silence fell. Outside the window, night had come. Lights kindled one by one in the apartment blocks below, each a candle to a life unled.

FINIS