The Contest and the Living Prize

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And on and on it went. No one was very good, and they all had far too little patience to really build up a good battle. They'd get to the weapons stage far too quickly, instead of relying on their wits or their hands, "Now, what are you gonna do if you don't have a phase pistol?" he asked after the sixth fight.

"Use my dagger?" asked one recruit.

"And if you have no dagger?"

"I always have a dagger with me."

"Well, what if you don't? What if you're naked 'cause you just did it with her?" Doug pointed to Bernstein.

"Would you like me to fight after doing it?" the recruit asked Karin.

"I dunno," she said, "Which are you better at?"

"Why don't you come to my quarters and find out?"

"And be groped by all of you?" she sniffed, "You don't have quarters, you have barracks. There are, what, twenty of you in one room? It must stink in there," she and Claymore giggled a little and went back to their workouts.

The recruit was all set to yell something when the gym door opened and the Empress's entourage came in. They were at least disciplined enough to spring to attention immediately, insoles of boots hitting the insoles of other boots as one.

"Empress, we were just getting ready to leave," Doug said.

"Oh, no, stay!" she smiled, "You can watch the demonstration. Now that both of my daughters are eighteen, it's time to get some things settled."

"Oh?" Doug asked.

"Yes. Two of my sons," she said, "They're doing Kenjutsu. Open that cabinet."

He did so. There were swords in it. Some were thin epées, others were really just Kendo sticks made out of bamboo while still others were made of iron. One in particular was beautifully ornately carved, "Got any particular ones in mind?"

"Yes," she said, "Two of the iron. But take out Ironblaze as well. That one," she indicated the lavishly decorated one.

"Yes, Empress."

She took the two plainer ones from him, "Jun! Kirin!" They came over, "You will battle today. There will be two prizes. So this is not to the death, of course. You've got to both stick around for after I'm gone."

"I hope that's a long time from now, Mother," Kirin said bowing and taking one of the swords from her.

"Suck-up," said Jun, bowing and taking the other one.

"The winner will be given my daughter, Empy. The loser will get Ironblaze."

Doug looked over. Marie Patrice was kind of interested, but mostly was chatting with the other girl, Takara. Tommy was hanging around Takara, possibly a little too close. She was pushing him out of the way but she let Joss get closer. Tommy was glaring at Joss, and Doug knew that look. It meant that it was likely that there would be two fights, not one. And the second one probably wouldn't have any rules to it whatsoever, and probably just the one prize – Takara.

"All right," The Empress said, "You will perform kata, or paired choreographed movements. You will perform them as quickly as possible. You will show off your timing and balance skills to start, and interchange the roles of attacker and defender. You will not make actual contact with one another's bodies – the only contact will be sword to sword. Points will be awarded for realism and for sword to sword hits. Points will be deducted if you strike your opponent anywhere but on his sword. Tommy!" she yelled.

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