Kacey lunged with Jason's sword, and metal rang in the air as he parried. She was on the offensive, hay flying under her feet as she surged forward like waves, slamming into Jason's defense, then ebbing for a moment as he lashed out before striking again.
His blade nicked her hair, and she saw a healthy cut of it float away.
With a snarl, Kacey laid open his other arm, and that got to the man. His eyes flashed with fury and pain, and he spun into an elbow that would have put her out if she hadn't ducked. She cut his ankle in passing-
"Ow!" She tumbled, clutching her nose. Jason's foot withdrew, and he charged, sword over his head-
Kacey rolled. Jason slammed the point of his blade into solid earth, and then the half-elf sprang to her feet, coming back at him. His sword was heavy in her hands, and she cursed it: it had been made for a man, one bigger and broader than she. The balance offended her, the weight was off, and it was longer than she liked.
Which didn't mean she couldn't use it.
"Kacey!" Ardyn cried, as the sword battle raged below her. The blonde fired a pistol, and another White Hand went down with a cry, this one moments from impaling Kui. The Islander's light flashed, but he hardly seemed to need it half the time: his movements were fluid, and his strikes powerful. He'd claimed a sword, and in him Kacey saw the grace of a warrior, whatever the differences between their cultures and backgrounds.
Her opinion of the man only climbed.
"You!" Kacey swung across at her shoulder-level, and Jason sprang backward, recovering his sword. He parried her next strike, kicking her in the chest in passing. Kacey spat from the shock, but then her head lashed out and she caught the man on his nose. "Killed!" Next it was her knee, and then her elbows as she tried to bring his clumsy sword around. "My!"
He shoved with his shoulder. She stumbled, and then had to dodge an overhead that would have cleaved her into elf and woman. Kacey lashed out-
And Jason knocked the sword from her hands. She paused as the tip of his blade went to her throat.
"You're not bad," he complimented. "I can see your uncle and father's training took root. But you're an amateur in a world of professionals. You need guidance and training and experience if you're going to rise."
"I want no place in your world order," Kacey hissed. She spat, and instead of the ground, she caught his face. That made her grin. "I have some tricks."
She flashed her hand in his eyes. Jason blinked from the red light, but he was fast, and he swung for her wrist. Kacey cried out as the shock ran through her bones, but her steel bracers absorbed the hit and kept her hand attached to her body. They dented, though, and the metal pushed into her skin-
Clang! That was his backswing, hitting her ribs before she could retreat. Her armor took the hit, but again his strike bent inward, and Kacey gasped as she abruptly found the steel jutting into her ribcage.
Then she threw herself backward, and Jason charged after her-
He slipped. On what, Kacey didn't know, but the assassin practically did a full split in the hay, crying out in surprise. His sword fell, and Kacey lunged, kicking him as hard as she could in the nose. He tumbled backward, and she saw his hand going to the other pistol on his belt. She bent to sweep up her shield, dropping onto her knee as Jason rose-
Bang-clang! Bang-clang! Kacey shuddered from the impacts, but both bullets fell in the hay before her.
Her fingers found Kjetil's knife under her, and she lunged. Jason, with sword in one hand and empty gun in the other, met her head-on.
She bashed him with the rim of her shield. He slashed her arm. She blocked an overhead with a bong of metal on metal, then he used his pistol to bat her knife to the side before she could take him in the eye. She tried to flash Fell Fate again, but his blade nearly severed three of her fingers, and she had to give ground. Jason lunged for a headbutt, and Kacey raised her shield to block it.
Bong! Her arm reverberated from the force of impact.
That got through to Jason. He stumbled three steps, dropping his gun to rub his forehead. Kacey charged, and she rammed her shield into his gut. He doubled over, and her knee came up to bounce him back upright for more. Kacey pulled Kjetil's knife back-
The noise was...soft. It was a meaty squish, and for some reason the only thing Kacey could think of was a watermelon being carved open. She felt a sudden shake of resistance, jerking all the way from her fingertips to her shoulders and down to her toes, as two hundred pounds of weight drove her backward.
The man dropped his knife, choking as blood leaked from his mouth...and dripped from where Kacey's claymore was embedded in his chest up to the hilt.
Blood on her bridal gloves. Dry throat.
"Ow!" She went down hard, clutching her jaw as her knife spun into the hay. Jason pulled his fist back, dropping one knee on her spine. Kacey screamed as he rained blow after blow onto the back of her head.
"You should have taken your shot," he growled, as he yanked her up by her hair. Kacey struck with her elbow, but couldn't stop him from hoisting her up and then dropping her back at his feet. She cried out, trying to get her hands and feet under her.
Thud! She coughed as he kicked her, hard enough she fell on her side. The redhead pulled her shield up to cover herself as best she could, and winced when Jason only shifted targets, hammering blows on her knees and ankles.
I can't kill him, she realized, suddenly awash with self-loathing. Kacey, his life doesn't matter - he's a murderer!
I can't kill him. It echoed in her head. I can't do it. Not even him. Not even for revenge. Not even to save my own life!
Kacey thrust her shield out as Jason kicked again, and she caught his foot. She threw it aside, and that won her a moment to rise, gasping for air, blood running from her cheek and her mouth, ribs alight, lungs screaming in protest. Her legs wavered under her.
"You have spirit, young lady," Jason said, nodding in clear approval. "Spirit won't save your life."
"No," Kacey agreed. "Ardyn will."
To his credit, Jason immediately spun, covering his head. Not to his credit, he'd missed when Ardyn descended from the lofts.
"Get him!" the blonde cried, the instant she fired her liberated crossbow. The bolt dug into Jason's leg from below his guard, not above it, and he howled. Kacey lunged, and she kicked the assassin with every bit of strength she had left.
He staggered. He wavered. But he didn't go down. His eyes just flicked up as Kacey landed her foot, and there was anger in them.
"You win this round, MacTavish, but your King is already dead," Jason growled. "This Palace is surrounded, so even if we didn't get him, our next strike will. You lose the war - and there will be war."
"You're going nowhere," Kacey declared. "Not with an arrow in your calf-"
He threw something at his feet. The redhead screamed when it burst with a choking cloud of white smoke.
"Of course!" she cried. "Just like Midnight's got! Why didn't that occur to me?" She struggled forward. "Ardyn? Ardyn, are you there?"
"Kacey!" Her cousin's voice was close enough for comfort, and in an instant, they literally ran into each other in the mire. Both of them crashed on their bums in the hay, nursing their heads.
"You daft girl!" Kacey cried, after she'd recovered. "You were supposed to be on the ship!"
"You'd be dead without me," Ardyn protested. "I had to help! Angus has the helm. He'll be there for us."
"Are you two all right?" Kui appeared through the haze, light on his palms. He extended them, and both Kacey and Ardyn took a hand.
"Fine," the redhead told him. She glanced him over, and the heap of fallen Light warriors. "You?"
"A couple scratches. You're the worst-off of us." Kui turned. "I'm going to start wrecking carriages. And...you are?" He paused at Ardyn's shoulder. "I don't believe I have the pleasure."
"Ardyn MacTavish," she said. "Kacey's cousin."
"Corlane's daughter." Kui nodded. "Very good, then. I'm with Lady Estelle."
"I figured," Ardyn said. "Where is she?"
Kacey curled her fingers and sewed a Thread of Health, clutching her thigh. "Help me out of this chestpiece. It's bent inwards."
"And then you stay here for keepers." Kacey swept up her shield. "I'll not be long."