21 - We Build Then We Break

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April 2, 1477

Monteriggioni, Italy

Catherine grimaced as she braced her blade against Ezio's blow. He was strong—stronger than she liked—so it was hard. He knew it, too. There was a slight curve of his lip upward as he got her knee to bend. She scowled, refusing to give up. Though she couldn't push him back, she did force his blade to the right so she could ram her shoulder into his gut. He grunted painfully as he staggered back, but caught her blade as she arced her arms and swung from above. He didn't have enough momentum to push back and so side-stepped. He wasn't smirking or even smiling now, and she took some joy in that. However, she set that small bit of glee aside as she went after him. She spun on her heels in the dirt, slamming her blade into his, which he'd brought up to defend his side. It bounced off with a loud clang and he winced slightly. She imagined his hands stung like hers did, but he didn't show it any further as he came after her in kind.

The redhead growled as he suddenly grabbed her sleeve and pulled while his sword arm aimed to "cut" her. He would never fully make the blow, although even if he did the blades were dulled for training. At most you might get a shallow cut, but generally just a thick, dark bruise. Regardless, she refused to let that happen. Though she didn't want to, she released her blade to free up her other hand and grab his wrist as he brought his weapon down over her. She then curled her other wrist to grab his in turn. She twisted once more to place her hips so they were almost perfectly perpendicular to him and also so that her leg was behind his. She pulled hard and the results were as she wanted: his knee hit her leg, causing him to tumble over. Ducking down slightly, she pulled his arm over her head so it didn't hit her. She made sure to keep her vice grip as he fell to his side and dug in her heels so she didn't go down with him. Gritting her teeth, she squeezed her fingers into his skin, and quickly shoved a boot up against his throat. It wouldn't choke him, but the pressure was meant to signify she had won.

She felt him struggle—felt his wrist and arm squirming to free themselves. He got his legs beneath him and tried to kick up, but when that failed he tried to swing his body to hit her legs out from underneath her. She just shifted quickly, pressing more on his throat. He made a garbled sound before he finally stopped, scowled, and tried to grab for his sword, but it had dropped too far away so he ceased his movements. Catherine let out a sigh of relief, finally releasing her grip, and removed her boot. She held out her hand to help him up and he took it.

"Looks like this is your win—using those ridiculous moves of yours," he grumbled, pouting some.

She chuckled back, "Well, nothing else works."

Unfortunately, that was the truth. She was honestly surprised she had won. It hadn't been easy, though; no, she was sweating profusely and had more than a few scuff marks and plenty of dirt smudged into her clothes and skin. Her make-shift bun was out of sorts, though it was a quick fix, and she was panting hard. It pained her to know just months ago she had never been pushed this much—not by Ezio, anyways. Yet, even after such a short time he was already a proficient fighter. He excelled in most everything he tried, and it was only her quick thinking and movement, flexibility, and a bit of knowledge of body physics that really helped her win. She just didn't have the strength or endurance to go as long as he did yet. Hell, if she hadn't pulled that move he would have won soon enough. She felt exhausted; her muscles and lungs were dealing with the temporary burn, and she was starving now. Her only consolation was that he was panting and sweating just as profusely as she was.

Still, it burned knowing he was getting stronger than her so fast. She'd been at this for almost a year now, and yet just a little over three months and he was essentially her better. Even outside the training ring he was. Oh, it was her damned pride, and she knew it was only reasonable he would be stronger and faster, but still—it hurt.

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