Chapter 25 - Duel of Princes

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Cain stared at Prince Paen, who gave him a glare that rivaled the one that Troy Pavos harbored when Cain dueled him in the labyrinth.

This battle would be different though. Cain wouldn't lose.

Cain swung his halberd. Prince Paen ducked and swung his sword, but Cain slammed it with the tail end of his weapon. Cain pushed Prince Paen's sword away and used his long leg to pummel Hydro's stomach. As Hydro lurched backwards, he mumbled, "Vesi."

Cain jumped backwards as a wave of water crashed down on the pier. In retaliation, Cain focused on the earth around the lake's perimeter and said, "Maa."

Like fog in the air, the sand and dirt surrounding the lake shot up. While dust blocked the light and veiled the water, Cain tapped a button on the side of his glasses. A silver film slid down the lenses, allowing him to see through the dirty fog. Pathetic, Prince. Try using power now. As long as Prince Paen could not see the other elements, like water from the lakes or fire from the suns, he couldn't use them.

Cain tiptoed forward, wary of the creaking planks. The prince was confused; Cain could see him looking at the dome he had created. What hope do you have battling me in power? My family has the longest rule of any family in power. The sages treat with my family, when they only visit yours.

Farther, Cain crept. He couldn't see the lake's progress. Is it completely red yet? Years of training at Castle Thoth had taught him control, and he would keep hold of the spell until the battle finished.  A little closer now.  Cain jumped back from Hydro's slash. Hydro lunged, and Cain backed up more. He is swinging blindly. At the next strike, Cain held up his halberd to block Hydro and then pushed the middle part of his weapon into Hydro's chin. It sent the prince reeling back—only a little, to Cain's dismay.

A succession of strikes came then, as quick and hard as slaps of wind. One after the other, Cain dodged and blocked. The shorter sword was no match for the length of his halberd.

Stab. Cross. Lunge. Sweep. Lunge. Cross. Cain read Hydro's movements, as though Cain embodied Baristan Corbello, the knight from A Dance of One Thousand Swords, the hero who never lost a duel against thousands of empires and who wooed a planet's worth of girls. If Gabrielle could see me now.

"Enough!" Prince Paen slashed downward.

Cain dodged with ease. "Too—" Cain stopped in midsentence. A pain erupted from his stomach. He looked down. The sword had transformed into a lance. As he stumbled back to the pier, dust that blocked the sky also fell. The lake had become red.

"Slow," Prince Paen finished. "I think not. My steel adapts as well as I do." 

Reality slowly sank into him. Corbello never had to deal with morphing steel—would the folk hero have fallen? At the moment, Cain's armor was the only thing clotting his blood.

Damn zircha steel. . . . Cain struggled to stand. I am no Baristan Corbello. He never would have lost. . . . Cain looked at his halberd that lay on the pier. He never would have given up either. Cain grabbed the weapon and got to his feet, rebounding with an onslaught of attacks on Prince Paen. Swords kissed. Wind hissed. Water licked their feet. For a spell, it seemed that Cain had the upper hand, managing to breach the prince's defenses with the butt of his halberd.

But before Cain knew it, he was sprawled out on the pier once again—with a pain in his chest from where a shield had collided into him. In midlunge, the prince had changed it. Zircha steel . . . blasted metal.

Before Cain could react, Prince Paen yelled, "Vesi."

From both sides of the lake, water rose like cobra heads about to strike. Then they did. Cain held his breath and gripped his weapon; he wouldn't want to lose it in the deluge. He did his best to raise an earth barrier but the tidal wave overtook him, throwing him around in its current and pushing him back past the pier and into a boulder. His spine erupted in pain, and his skull screamed with agony. Blood soon soaked his hair as dizziness overcame him.

"I tried. . . ." Cain coughed. His clothes were wet, his glasses were cracked. He looked with fragmented vision as the same water that had crashed onto him now swirled like a whirlpool, swallowing redness.

From the middle of the lake, an orb appeared and floated into Hydro's hands. That should be mine. Cain lifted his body, only to collapse. He looked around and noticed the hovercraft. There was still one way to stop Hydro.

"Maa!" Cain yelled, mustering his remaining strength.

Spires erupted all around the hovercraft. Cain struggled to maintain the spell. His arms shook as energy dissipated from his body. With a loud crash, the hovercraft split in two. A spire impaled its metallic gut. Cain smirked.

"What are you doing?" Prince Paen yelled and ran toward Cain.

"Adapting," Cain answered weakly. He released the power.

The rest was up to the Ancients.

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