Cold, brown, disinterested eyes flick over mine briefly. His right hand, limp in my own, retreats quickly into his crisp, clean glove, and his mask lowers as he backs away to his end of the strip. O! How cold you are, McKinney! You terror of the Eastern Independent League! You who face your foes without pity or mercy!
I still feel his steel point upon my chest from our last encounter, some weeks ago. Blood reddens my face, unseen behind the meshed metal of my mask, as I think back to the bitter defeat. Two brave Knights of my BB&N order had already fallen before his majesty, until only the two of us remained: I, left-handed and unranked, and he, the champion. We crossed blades, but, alas, within a mere minute the scoreboard was clear: 5-0. Shame burned a gouge deeper than any battle wound, healable only by victory.
Now I face the dread titan once more; cool bursts of adrenaline course through my veins with every beat of my hardened heart. Sweat slides in sheets down my forehead into my eyes; I blink but feel nothing. What ascendance, to strike down the indifferent defender of that coveted prize, the state fencing championship! And what wondrous revenge for my defeated comrades! All outside of the fencing strip grows dark to my sight; I see only the figure before me and his foil tracing lazy circles in the stale gym air. My sword mirrors his, and we stand mesmerized, charmed, muscles coiled like serpents.
The referee assumes his position next to the strip; duty demands that we salute him and each other. Through ragged breaths, I hardly hear the man when he utters, “Ready…fence!” Slowly, carefully, we creep toward one another, blades spinning as before. Metal clashes lightly as we test defenses and attempt to establish the other’s base instincts and expected manoeuvers. Lunges are but feints as we begin our dangerous game.
All at once, he pounces, arm outstretched, death at its tip. A circular six deflects the blade into my shoulder, and my riposte grazes his helmet without effect. Naught but a body shot will earn points, so the referee calls us back with a tired, “Off target.” My teeth clench at the distracting waves of pain in my arm.
The same attack, but this time I stare with amazement at the foil arcing out of McKinney’s chest; it is my own. Would that I could see the shock on his face behind the mask!
But legends do not fall so easily. Within ten seconds I find his weapon extending from my side, the attack having carefully disengaged my parry and slipped past my defenses. Resolving to test that oldest of battle maxims, that the best defense is offense, it is I who begins the next engagement, hoping that my righteous fury will overwhelm him and protect me from further losses. I receive a rap in the solar plexus for my trouble, my point missing him completely.
Often to gain victory one must utilize natural advantages rather than cleverness and dexterity alone. As I lack the technical skill and experience of my foe, only one option remains: counterattacks.
His next lunge screams for my blood and submission, but anticipating the attack, I spin clockwise, pivoting on my front foot, and extend my foil in his direction. His sword flies past my neck, cutting empty air, while mine finds its target.
Anger radiates from his helm; Goliath grows weary of David’s foul play. We repeat the sequence four times, and the score tastes like sweet ambrosia; somehow, the champion and I are tied with four points each.
The shades of my fellows urge me forward, toward the light, the final point before the epic defeat. One small touch and the great McKinney falls. My fingers tingle; my blade waves precariously, figure eights replacing even spins.
McKinney approaches with cautious steps: heel, toe, step; heel, toe, step. His rubber-soled shoes scarcely skim the strip. He floats like the Angel of Death come to claim his right. His scythe shivers not; it is steady, unflinching, without remorse or judgment.
He initiates his harvest, steel soaring toward my heart. My knees collapse in awe; I sink to the floor, back straight, arm up in a final supplication. Each blade connects, the scoreboard flickers red and white.
I see only red. Could I have defeated the invincible? Could Ares have smiled upon me so brightly this day?
The referee mutters my doom: “Off target.”
The scythe swings, and the implacable master lifts his mask and gazes upon the waste of another Knight.