Iris & Kos

        It was past lights out, but Kos and I were still up, sneaking about town. On my insistence, we were going to the arena for a bit of practice. They weren’t happy about it, of course, but we have a reputation to uphold. The monitors generally ignore people breaking curfew as long as you’re not trying to leave, but still, Kos had their guard up and wanted to use some kind of illusion spell to hide us. I said no, keep your energy up for the match, idiot! Though they have better night vision than me, so I did allow them to cast a small spell that helped with that.
        All the streetlights were off by the time we set out, but we made it with no major obstructions. Kos changed while I picked the lock on one of the supply rooms. There was a myriad of weapons to choose from, but I decided to go for something in the middle tonight. I ran into Kos on my way back to the changing rooms, and they frowned at the scabbard I threw loose over my nightclothes.
        “I thought night practice was for you to get out of your… assigned comfort zone,” came their inquiry, free of inflection. “It’s for your practice, too; that sword isn’t really built for my daggers. If you want to get better at defending me, your primary opponents are going to have a Dual weapon. I thought I’d throw in some stuff you’re more likely to face every once in a while." I shrugged. "That’s all.”
        Kos said nothing for a moment, then left towards the weapons room, which meant they would at least drop it for now. I dashed back to the changers and threw my nightclothes in a locker, putting on some simple plate armor. Sure, no dual would be as agile and mobile as I would in this, but fuck it. I threw on my sword, hid my knife, and made my way to the arena. Kos was probably still suiting up, so I took out my tablet and began to look over my notes, a last minute cram session. Soon enough, Kos came in with a standard dual kit. Chain mail, a broadsword, and a thick shield. The getup that I usually wore.
        I moved all my spare things onto the bleachers, and made into position opposite Kos. I told them banter was essential to being a Dual, and so I knew they were thinking of something to say. “Sword and gauntlet. Unique.”
        I grinned behind a faceguard. “It means I don’t need a shield to take you down,” I said, sticking my foot in the circle at the center of the arena.
        They did the same. “First touch, or takedown?” I shrugged. “First touch gives me advantage, so takedown. Best of three, then we'll see how we feel.” They nodded, and we turned, marking ten paces to the small buttons embedded in the floor.
        This was the one part I was scared about. The speakers played a sequence of four beeps to simulate a countdown, a noise meant to be heard over the roar of a crowd. The arena was relatively soundproof, but I still cringed a bit when I learned how loud it was in a truly empty building. But by the time I really had time to think about it, my body instinctively got ready for combat, and we were already circling each other, looking for an opening. I threw a few swings I knew they’d block, just to get my blood going. It was hard for me to stay in form with the shortsword, as I trained with a mace or longsword, usually. Easier than the daggers, sure, but it was still a bit of a trip. Kos retaliated. Dodging the attack, I quickly countered with a slash, as they threw up their shield to meet it. I danced away, wary of reciprocation. We circled again, but before long I could hear quiet chanting, hidden under the clank of armor. I quickly closed in with a sword swipe that they blocked, and a punch from my left hand that they dodged in time. I probably didn’t break their concentration which meant it was only a few seconds before this round was over. I slipped my dagger out with my gauntlet hand and struck, sword, then dagger. The first two didn’t connect, as expected, but I stuck my foot behind their leg and yanked back, sending them sprawling.
        I backed away and let them regain their feet while they cursed at me. “That was a dirty trick.” Still no affect, an utter lack of emotion. I knew them well enough to know that they were angry despite how skilled they were at masking, so I defused a bit.
        “I baited you. I used the banter to pretend I had no offhand. It’s important to being a dual, and to being a fighter.” A quick slash that I parry without effort.
        They take a breath, eyes on me. “If it was just the knife, I’d have no problem. That kick was cheap, and there’s no way I could’ve avoided it.” I scoffed. “You were casting at me, what was I supposed to do? I’m not going to telegraph my attacks just because I’m more experienced than you are. You told me not to pull any punches during training, and I’m just doing what you asked.” They got angry and rushed me. I deflected each blow easily but they had gotten close inside my range. I dropped my sword just in time to catch a downward swing from their knife. They knew that close combat was one way they could best me easily. And they pulled out a second knife. Shit. I threw my knife to my right hand so I could use my gauntlet to deflect, but I was still losing ground. I had to end this now. I could throw my knife, but that might leave a genuine wound that would be a pain to heal. They nicked me a few times before I just gave up and tackled them. I know Kos wouldn’t stab me in the back, just because of the pain, but if this were an actual arena fight, it would’ve ended with my loss. We hit the ground hard and I managed to come out on top of the scuffle, knife to their throat.
        “I won.”
        They grinned a bit beneath the mask, pressing a knife gently into my back. “If this were a real bout, you would’ve just lost us the match. I only abstained because I don’t wanna heal you.”
        "I'm just pract-"
        A loud boom sounded. I had a fraction of a second to recognise the sound of the doors, before a force punched me in the chestplate and sent me flying up and backwards. I realised mid air that Kos had casted from me, probably on pure instinct. I didn’t remember the fall but when I hit the ground there was a knife in my back. I opened my eyes and Saturn was crouching over me. Kos called their name and ran towards both of us. I’ll admit at this point I closed my eyes, and my memory of this bit was only their voices.
        Kos: “Shit! Shit. I’m so sorry, Iris. Saturn, how the hell are you here?”
        Saturn: “I was on cleaning duty, what the hell happened?”
        Kos: “We were sparring, it was a reflex!”
        Saturn: “Yeah, well. I won’t tell anyone you were breaking roles.”
        Kos: “Thank fuck.”
       Saturn: “But you need to get that under control. This easily could’ve killed them.”
        Kos: “Well, it’s gonna scar like the fury of the ascended. Shit! Could you help?”
        Saturn: “Of course.”
       Kos: “I owe you, man. Don’t take any in yourself, I want to minimize spread.”
        At this point, Saturn started sketching greater arcana around me in floor chalk. The quick but deliberate scrabbling filled my ears and soul. Kos was still trying to clear the wound, to understand it, so they could perform the healing correctly.
        Me: “We’ll be matching...”
       Kos: “Shut up, Iris. We gotta get this done. Man, that’s bad. I mean, no important organs, and it missed the spine, so I guess it could’ve been worse.”
        At this point, they gagged, and switched places with Saturn.
        Saturn: “Boy howdy, that’s a nasty one.”
        I tried to laugh, but it was difficult with the pain, so it more came out as a scratchy growl.
        Me: “I’ve had worse. Once.”
        Saturn: “Well, the hard part isn’t over just yet. I need to get this thing out of you.”
       Me: “Oh I know.” My voice was faltering. “It’s the clean blade. Serrated blades hurt more coming out.”
        Saturn: “Keep talking. It makes it hurt less.”
        Me: “It was bad that one time. I was pretty young too.”
        Saturn: “Yeah?”
        Me: “Yeah… maybe… eleven? Bigger knife, probably. It was a lot like this.”
        Saturn: “I’m gonna need to pull it out, now. Are you ready?”
        Me: “The quicker the better.”
        He placed a hand on my back and gripped the handle. Even his touches felt like new pain radiating from the wound. I’m glad I didn’t scream when it came out. I made a conscious effort not to, but I didn’t have the energy in me either way. It hurt more afterward, as all the blood gushed out, no longer stoppered by the blade. Saturn tossed it to the side and joined Kos in drawing the greater arcana for healing, and probably for connection as well. Two separate scratches played out in patterns all around me. Just like last time. I gave into the noise, letting it replace everything else, except where pain had calcified in my wound. One of them got up from their scratching to examine me, then just as quickly, returned to the lines and patterns. I opened my eyes as much as I could and removed my cheek from the padded floor. I could see a bit of the arcana, and could see Kos sit down in front of me, leg outside the circle, probably held by Saturn. They had one hand on their back and one hovering above my wound. They performed last minute checks on the important bits, and I could see the transfer begin. Saturn transferred his magic to Kos, as much as was possible could without a dualcaster bond. They then broke the outer transference circle, and Kos used their free leg to activate the next circle-the transference, to get the magic flowing between us. I could feel the warmth through my veins. It was debilitatingly painful for someone who had little aptitude; my body wasn’t suited to carry this much magic. But I felt it gently fade away, gathering at the wound. Then, the blending circle to spread the pain, as Kos drained the energy that had coalesced and pulled it into them. It was clearing from my back, and no longer felt like a flaming, radiating pain spike, and more like a long, straight pin that twisted my flesh round and round til it pinched. And in an instant, someone broke the blending arcana, and it all stopped. I could still feel the twisted bit of pain where it all healed up, but on a scale from weeks-old wound to freshly bleeding gash, it was still scabbed over. I rolled over and sat up on my elbows to see Kos clutching at their stomach, and Saturn looking on in worry. “Either of you bleeding?”
        I checked my back. It was on the right side and it was still a bit tender, but no blood. “All good here.”
        Kos winced and drew their hand away. There was a small smear of crimson at the tip of their finger, clear in the light. “Only a little. It should scab completely within the hour.”
        Saturn frowned. “I guess. I stopped it once I thought it was well past halfway. Why didn’t you clear it earlier, Kos?”
        They rumbled their throat a bit and spun so we were all sitting in a triangle. “I like my robes, Saturn. It was my fault it happened in the first place, and I wanted Iris to be able to show a bit of skin if he pleases.”
        Saturn was vibrating with anger. “You could’ve died if you took too much on! You fucking idiot! You imbecile!”
        They gave a grim smile. “You stopped it right at the right time. Thanks, Saturn.”
        He was more than a little befuddled to say the least, but Kos had quite the reputation for eccentricity themself. Not like Saturn isn't even weirder (though I might just be more used to Kos). Everyone just wants to suck up to them since they’re such a good caster, and I’m not too bad of a dual myself. I had a feeling he really wouldn't leak our secret. Stuck up high ranking dualcasters would sell your soul for a few marks, but he was weird. Like us. I touched my back, gauging the damage. I'm pretty sure that if Saturn wasn’t here, me and Kos would both be bleeding a lot more by the end.