"Would you come back here--" Tavros scowled as Ruin danced away, sliding his blade aside with the most effortless of parries.
"Ah!" said Ruin. "I should acknowledge your royal blood and stand still so you can take my head off?" He came in with a series of hard strikes, and Tavros fell back -- parrying when he could, and turning to catch them on his armor when he couldn't. "Or you could quit layering yourself in enchanted steel and rely on skill alone!"
"Never!" cried Tavros, and brought his sword around in a massive undercut, forcing Ruin to slip aside again. The half-dragon was taller, stronger, and had more reach, but the True Elf seemed made of wind and shadows: near-impossible to touch.
And that was without the possibility that he could slip away at any moment, wending through some tiny crack in the world itself, and come out elsewhere. Tavros was trying to keep him too busy for that, but Ruin just laughed and fell back, concentrating on defense, not even bothering to attack. He's trying to wear me down, Tavros thought. Well, that wasn't going to happen. He could keep this up forever, even if he was the one doing all the work--
Then Ruin reversed directions, sliding in at him, and Tavros saw his opening. He brought his blade around even as he realized that Ruin was thrusting for his throat...
They stopped with their blades locked, both just far enough off-course not to draw blood. The problem was, Ruin's blade was angled correctly for a devastating strike, and Tavros' blade was... not.
Then Ruin grinned. "Point to me."
Tavros glanced at his blade and smiled. "Yes."
They stepped apart and cased their blades. Ruin gestured. "Is it just me, or are you not fighting as well as you were before?"
"It seems so," Tavros admitted. "A part of the geas, I think."
"You sure someone didn't just kill the enchantments on your sword?"
Tavros blinked. "I suppose that could be... trade me for a moment?"
They exchanged swords, and Ruin nodded slowly. Tavros' blade was bigger than he was used to using, but it was manageable... and it moved as if its enchantments were intact. "Try it," he suggested.
They moved towards each other again, but again it Ruin who had to catch his blade before it struck; Tavros just wasn't getting through, not reliably. Ruin's blade, for all that it was smaller and lighter than Tavros was used to, felt clumsy in his hands.
"I don't think it's the sword," said Ruin.
"Nor do I," answered Tavros.
Ruin passed the silver blade back and accepted his own in return. "Do we have any other way to check?"
Tavros shrugged. "I mean, there is that one blade I found on the island, but it was..." He shook his head. "Might as well try it, I suppose."
He ducked back through the stables and into the inn, and Ruin stood waiting in the yard for his return. As he waited, a young human approached him, looked up at him, swallowed, blinked, and swallowed again. "What?" asked Ruin finally, and the child started.
Ruin sighed. "I'm not going to behead you, child. You work in the stables? Care for the horses?"
The child nodded. "I were wondering... if... the two of you...?"
Ruin gave the child what he hoped was an encouraging look, and the child edged back before stepping forward again.
Ruin shook his head. "A few minutes more." He paused, studying the child, then asked: "Why?"
"The fight sounds... they make the horses... nervous." Quickly: "It's not a problem! They'll just... be calmer... once you're done."
"And you? Are we making you nervous, too?"
He must have gotten the expression right this time, because the child shook their head. "I were always nervous, Sir. Except with the horses."
Ruin blinked at that. "We'll keep it short," he said.
The child nodded and went back into the stables, just as Tavros returned. Tavros offered a greeting, but the child didn't respond.
"What was that?" asked Tavros.
Ruin shrugged. "Apparently we're making the horses nervous. And apparently the child is always nervous."
"Well..." Tavros shook his head, but the stables behind the Bitter Asp were the closest thing to seclusion that they were going to find in Styre, and if they didn't finish this now they might not get another chance. Events were about to begin moving very quickly, and it would help if his fighting skills weren't impaired. "Let's finish quickly, then."
They faced off again, Ruin with his elegant two-handed scimitar and Tavros with the blade he'd found on the northern island. It looked like a remnant of some ancient battle: rusted and battered all over, with nicks in the blade and stains on the simple wooden handle. Still, the blade was straight and the weapon felt solid, so Tavros put his left shoulder forward and settled in with the blade angled out and down behind him, waiting for Ruin to move in.
Ruin feinted forward, angling to catch Tavros' countercut, then rolled aside at the last minute as Tavros' battered old blade came up with unexpected precision. The two of them were evenly matched in skill; but suddenly Tavros, with his greater strength and reach, had the advantage again. Ruin cursed -- more in surprise than frustration -- and fell back, using every trick he knew to fend Tavros off. Despite his best efforts, Tavros was driving him back towards the corner of the yard.
"I slept with Anica," Ruin said, waited a beat, and then slid past Tavros' blade and back into the open as that sank in. As ideas went for distracting the paladin and buying himself some room to move, he was pretty sure this one was terrible. It was just that he literally couldn't think of anything else.
Tavros stopped and stepped back, looking at his sword and then at Ruin, surprise on his scaly face.
"What the hell was that?" asked Ruin, before Tavros could open his mouth to say anything. "All morning you've been fighting like you forgot how to use a sword, and all of you sudden you pick up that thing and you're unstoppable?"
Tavros nodded slowly. "There is more to this sword than it seems," he said. "I can feel it doing things... A gift from Amun, it seems. One I failed to recognize." There was an inscription along the flat of the blade, visible now: A Sword for All Peoples.
"Your god has a strange sense of humor," Ruin observed.
Tavros sheathed the sword and turned to look at Ruin again. "And Anica? Or were you making that up to distract me?"
"Your god has a strange sense of humor," Ruin repeated, emphasizing it.
Tavros laughed. "That he does." He shook his head. "The order doesn't forbid it, you know."
Ruin nodded. "She told me. They both did."
"Tarric?" Tavros looked surprised.
Ruin shook his head. "Aesa. In the chapel, no less."
Tavros' expression turned serious. "Truly?"
Ruin nodded. "Is this going to be a problem? If it is, I'd like to have it out now, before we set half of Fanaxia on fire trying to stop the Cult of Vecna from taking over."
"No, but..." Tavros shook his head again, frowning. "You were only there for... a couple of days? So you must have been with both of them almost at once. I hope neither of them were hurt by that."
"So do I," said Ruin frankly.
"How did it happen?" asked Tavros. "I mean, not that it's any of my business, but..."
Ruin shrugged. "Well... this is going to be the short version of the way I remember it, but let me start by saying: your god has a strange sense of humor..."