This post is a follow on to Vaslov's post: The Duel.
The muffled sound of iron ships slowly twisting in the dock punctuate the silence.
"The challenge has been issued." The ragged man says. "It must be met."
Daniel does not know whether to support Marcus or run away from him. He cannot express his regret.
"Marcus, we cannot pull out now. The price is too high."
Marcus is shaking, he cannot stop it, his mind is locked with his fear. He knows that if he is to earn Sarah's love, to gain any kind of position at all, he must prove himself here. Yet this is nothing like the fights he is used to. The blur of steel, the whistles of the gangs of Parliament roaming together in the night, the roar of the Members fighting. If he is to be of quality then it is here, in this wretched place, with the stench of rotten fish and blood, that he will show it, or die.
He tightens his fist.
"Then let us get on with it." He finally says.
The ragged man reaches back down to the sack and continues to unknot its cord. Marcus breaths deeply and turns to receive the briefcase from Daniel, who snaps the lid open exposing the dark reds of the velvet inside. On it rests the head. The flesh is grey, and the man was old when he died. Daniel's great-grandfather, a fierce man, a long-time supporter of the Parliament and a proud weapon of his family for generations since his death.
Marcus reaches out with his left hand and whispers the incantation. The eyes of the head snap open, exposing crystal globes that emit a faint light, barely visible. The head rises of its own volition, turning about as if stretching a hidden neck. It moves to Marcus's shoulder and hovers there, waiting.
The ragged man, a wizard of centuries long experience judging by his appearance, is stood facing them, a head of his own chosen from the bag and positioned near his hand, ready to respond to its instruction. The head is even more hideous than Daniel's great grandfather. The flesh is torn and loose, held together with crude, thick stitches and metal staples. One of the eyes is sealed shut and the other contains a dark green orb. It is a well seasoned weapon. Daniel has tutored him, warned him to be cautious. Their practise duels, with the heads of dogs and birds, have taught him the basics, but he feels nothing could really prepare him for this.
Daniel watches the ragged man. It is not the first time he has seen a master like this but his own station has meant he has been secure from walking into such a challenge. He feels guilty at dragging Marcus into this, as if his friendship inevitably meant this moment had to happen. That Marcus would need to see himself as Daniel's equal at all cost.
When Daniel sees the ragged man nods he raises his whistle to his lips. Before blowing into it he whispers a charm of luck for Marcus then gives the short, sharp blows that signal the start of the duel. Within minutes the dockside will be swarming with witnesses, but the fight will have already begun.
The two heads glide towards each other with respective flicks of the controllers' hands. They seem to shimmer in the dark air, ghost shadows falling on fog. There are a few shouts in the distance as the heads begin to swing around, nudging carefully at each other but not yet engaged.
Suddenly the ragged man's arm lifts up, his palm outstretched. The head under his control darts forwards, crashing into Marcus's head with a snap of his jaw and the swipe of a razor buried in his ear. Marcus cries out in pain as the hit is lodges within him via the link between his mind and that of the weapon. The pain is harder and sharper than he imagined it would be. The practise fights were barely more than light blows while the impact from that strike is buried deep in his nerves, a fire of neuronal activity. He recovers with a defensive strike that does little damage. Better prepared now he makes a move to parry another swipe and follows it up with a bite against the back of the neck. It does little damage but Marcus sees the ragged man wince in his own sympathy and Marcus feels heartened by it.
Suddenly the ragged man's head swings low and speeds too quickly for Marcus to react. It punches hard, driving Marcus's head away with a wooden crack, almost to the edge of where Marcus's control ends. Then it drives quickly forwards, directly at Marcus, aiming to attack him directly and claim a trophy that is the ragged man's desire. Marcus reaches out with his hand defensively, trying to block the rotting skull but it bites down onto his hand and severs a finger. Screaming, Marucs reacts instinctively, pulling his own skull back faster than he had thought possible with a drawing back of his arm. The ragged man does not notice in time, too focused on driving in for another attack, hoping to tear at his whole arm this time to claim it for his own. Only trphies claimed within the battle can be kept.
Marcus attacks the skull from behind, the old features of the grandfather are contorted with a sincere rage as it tears into the back of the ragged man's floating head, ripping into the stiches and pulling apart the metal hinge and staples that hold the skull's jaw on. The grandfather spits away the loose jaw and it falls to the ground, closely followed by the rest of the head.
Marcus falls to his knees, clutching his bleeding hand. He summons his head back towards him and seeks out the old, ragged man. The ragged man has fallen, unconscious and inert. Marcus has won.