Chapter 29

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Anele ducked an iron back fist that still clipped her hairline. She had enough time to recover half her balance before a heel drove into her liver. There was less than the time between breaths to put her arm between that kick and the organ that kept her soul tethered to the physical world. The soul kick was the simplest strike in all the divine arts. It was also the one that tended to kill you.

She half-blocked, half-dodged, half-met, half-rolled the Pettygod's flurry of strikes. In a fair fight, he would have been too quick for her to even do that much. He should have been able to crack her skull like an eggshell with a flick of his finger. But when you lived as a witch with a broken soul, the first fight you always avoided was the fair one.

Salleh helped.

That was an understatement, in truth, but Anele was still sore about the way the Seer looked down at her, and on the mounting number of occasions she shoved Anele out of the way of a killer blow. In the half a minute they'd been fighting the Pettygod, Salleh had saved her life five times. Anele had returned the favour twice.

The Pettygod lashed out a back kick at Salleh, who'd tried to angle a strike to the small of his back. Anele forfeited a clean fist to his exposed ribs and kicked her heel into his standing ankle instead, knocking his balance so that when his kick smacked against Salleh's shoulder, it sent her spinning and the sound of iron hitting stone through the street. But not the sure crack of a broken bone.

Three times. Well, it wouldn't have been the fatal strike, just the one before. Anele rolled her shoulder to deflect a swinging hook. Two and a half, then.

The Pettygod's fist met her jaw, and hers met the inside of his bicep, and they both stumbled back to recover. She couldn't be sure if the bastard was smiling, his lips were still only vague ridges under his nose, but he rolled his shoulder playfully, knowing damn well he couldn't feel physical pain.

Panting, Anele spat out the chip of a bloody tooth. "Dick."

Despite a body dense enough to outweigh an elephant, he bounced lightly on his feet, taking the loose stance of a two-point boxer. He threw a playful jab at the air between them, bobbed his head like he was slipping punches. Oh, he didn't have a mouth, but he made his whole body a mocking smile.

The taunt... slipped off Anele, and she frowned, bloody froth tickling the corner of her lip.

When she'd first met the Pettygod in the desert, she hadn't been surprised by his strength, which was a concern in itself. She and every other divine beast within ten miles should have been able to feel the pressure of his soul, the same way she felt Wenyanga's whenever they flexed. And yet he'd just shown up behind her, and eaten the soul of an earthpig. 

Anele had had... complicated interactions with Judge and Pettygod level mages before, but none of them would have even bothered to acknowledge her or Salleh's existence, let alone gorged on something as insignificant to their titanic souls as a regular pig. This Pettygod, dangerous as he was still to anyone not his equal, was starving. He had a body astronomically stronger than his soul could ever handle properly, and so he had to limit himself to fighting Perfects like Salleh and -- most likely -- Wenyanga.

He was a city engine running on rosewater, choking his body with every cycle of his soul. In that moment, Anele understood him. She didn't smile, but she saw her shoulders relax in the reflection on his brow.

Salleh finally got herself standing, her ribbons dropping at the ends as if they'd go limp at any moment. An ugly welt had shut her left eye, and there was a stream of blood coming out the ear on that side. Despite her Perfect body, she was trembling like someone caught in a death cold, her good eye drooping with exhaustion.

"I can't hold any more of it," she said. "Not without meditation."

"That's alright, friend."

"Oi," came a voice from above, "just say if you need help!" 

Anele frowned as she looked up at Wenyanga. They sat perched on the edge of the watchtower roof, clutching their exposed belly and clearly drained. One hit of their soul flex would put all three of them down on the street, but it would also dissipate the good work Anele and Salleh had done up to now.

Grimacing as she moved against welts and bruises inconveniencing her joints, Anele took up a four-point boxer stance, balanced for punches and kicks. The Pettygod saw the game, shifting to a stance from the six-point style. Anele hit eight, and he switched to the dirty ten. They called it even when they both dropped into twelve-point, and Anele prepared herself for an ugly flurry of iron elbows and knees, headbutts and worse. She'd be cut up like a whale in a jagged reef when it was all done. 

That or dead. The bullshit that was this morning would end one way or another.

"When you're ready," she said.

The Pettygod must have assumed she was talking to him, because he closed the distance between them with a flying knee that would have cracked her face in. Salleh screamed as she flexed her soul.

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