Walking in front of the temple was no experience to wink at. The magnificent structure, it's sweeping and swooping walls, nothing shaped like a standard cubic building, stained in cool winter colors and accented with contrasting tints to catch the eye and treat it to a visual menagerie of architectural splendor—that was the Sunburst temple. However, its normal equivalent across the veil, back in the boroughs of New York, was nothing special: just an ugly couple of buildings, offices or something. Noa didn't care. She much preferred to walk through the other side of things, through the other half of reality.
Sunburst was a magnificent place, but while aesthetically the appeal was undeniable, socially there was much to be desired.
Noa stopped in her tracks, staring across the open courtyard—what would have been suffocating streets and cars, clamped by sidewalks and sweaty people on the other side—at the smiling man in black. His clothes were tight and sparse, a good outfit for rapid and creative movements—the choreography of combat. He swung out a lance, letting the shaft spin across his arm, over his shoulders, around his body, twirling into one of his hands to be anchored still. Taking a stance, he prepared himself for what Noa guessed he expected to be a battle.
Feeling a little overdressed compared to the spearman, she wore nothing special, just jeans and a hoodie, something that wouldn't catch any attention on the other side. She didn't want to engage the spearman in the least; he was nothing but a scrub, really, some prick looking for a fight. Cocking her head to the side, she made sure he could see her sheer lack of amusement.
"I guess you're here for me," Noa called across the yard.
The spearman didn't move an inch, his smile just as firm.
"I hate to disappoint you," she continued when he remained silent, "but I've got an appointment to keep. I'd appreciate it if you could let me go without a fuss."
The spearman's response was unmistakable—he charged, still smiling, bringing his lance to bear.
"Fine," Noa said through gritted teeth.
Before he could reach her, she swung out a hand, materializing a scimitar, parrying his first blow with a mix of boredom and agitation. Coming back around, the spearman swung his lance down at her—she dodged—and pulled back to pierce her while she was still in motion. Colliding her blade with the end of his lance, Noa wove the scimitar around the shaft, using the spiral to toss the end of his weapon away from her body—enough to keep her from getting run through.
Admitting defeat this round, the spearman took a few steps back, allowing Noa some breathing room. The two of them locked eyes as they each stretched and loosened up. Though Noa had successfully repulsed him that time around, she had not yet won the battle.
"I mean it," Noa said, raising her scimitar, aiming its tip at him. "I don't have time to mess around with scrubs like you. Let me go, or there'll be hell to pay."
"Hell, you say," the spearman almost laughed. "I'd like to see that."
"He speaks," Noa called to him, now with her own smirk. "Does he also have a name?"
"You can call me Nova," the spearman answered, readying himself for another go.
"Who sent you?"
"No one sent me; I came here to meet you." He stood up straight to face her once again. Something about the way he stood and spoke seemed to give away a sort of respect Noa hadn't sensed till then. "You should know you're pretty noteworthy at this point, Noa Graystone—who wouldn't want a chance to fight you?"
"I'm flattered," Noa admitted, still smirking, "but, like I said, I gotta go."
"Not just yet, you don't," Nova said, taking his stance again. "If you're worth all the salt they pour in your name these days, then some 'scrub' like me shouldn't be any trouble. That is, unless you think you can't keep up with me. Or maybe you just think you're too good for a fight."
"I don't have to prove anything to you."
"Certainly not," Nova said, his muscles tensing, getting ready. "But one wonders if all the rumors are true."
Nova charged again, swinging his lance behind his body as he closed the gap between himself and his opponent. Noa started at him as well, sidewinding a little, putting a faint curve into her trajectory, something to keep her from crashing headfirst into whatever Nova had planned. He brought his lance in for a fairly standard strike, something she repelled easily—what came next was his real move.
The lance split in half, into two short spears, one in each of his hands. The first sped past her side, missing, but the second came in right after, taking advantage of what element of surprise Nova had created. By then Noa's scimitar was in no position to block the second attack, leaving her open. Nova smiled as the spear soared toward her shoulder, though that smile vanished in an instant once he registered her response.
With an almost unnatural speed, Noa raised her free hand, seizing the second spear, jerking it aside just enough to save herself from the assault. Keeping her grip tight, she and Nova held the spear-half together as they spun themselves around, pivoting on their shared hold. Held together by the single spear, Nova brought his other spear and Noa her scimitar to each other, crashing and clanging off one another, each parrying the other's blows, locked in a back-and-forth that implied no certain conclusion.
"Truly stunning," Nova managed to say, tilting his head back as Noa swung her blade over his face. "They say you're good, but this is spectacular! I have just one question—"
With unbelievable torque, Nova twisted his first spear from Noa's grip, using the moment he had to bail out of such close quarters combat. Noa would have none of his escapes, however; she lunged her head forward, sprinting right after him, managing to get a few strikes in here and there, each clattering off of his spears as they ran together.
"They say you're a master," Nova said, moving quickly enough to stay just ahead of her. "The stories never mention weapons, though. What's the matter, little girl? Are you afraid to get cut?"
Hearing that, Noa put one foot in front of the other and threw her weight back, sliding to a stop, kicking up what little dust and dirt there was on the grounds surrounding the Sunburst temple. Scowling, she watched Nova turn about, taking a few paces backward to ensure enough space between the two of them. Taking in a deep breath, she remembered the counsel she'd been given before: Don't let another person get into your head, she could hear her say. Just converse through your art.
Clearing her throat, Noa swung the scimitar to her side, letting it disintegrate into the air—back to her inventory. She stared Nova down squarely, firm but controlled.
"You're the one who brought a lance," Noa said. "What's the matter, little girl? You afraid to get a bruise?"
Nova only laughed, spinning his spears back into one weapon and dematerializing them before her eyes.
"Your spirit," he said grinning, "it really is a treat unto itself. I'm beginning to think I might get to see the Noa Graystone of legend after all."
Standing up straight, Noa kept her eyes glued to Nova as she raised both hands in front of her. She stood with all the stillness of a statue, staring back at her opponent, waiting. Nova willingly made his way back to her, moving slowly, placidly, until there was only a few feet between them.
"I'll warn you now," he said. "You're not the only one who can use their hands."
Without another word, he ran at her, both arms ready for a fight. His first punch aimed for her sternum; he found his arm locked between the backs of her hands, though only for a second before it was jettisoned away. Taking advantage of another opening, he brought his other arm up, only to watch it be slapped away, leaving him completely open. One punch, her knuckles extended, landed right in his solar plexus, winding him; the second aimed for the same spot, but he was able to turn in time to let the punch land against his chest instead.
Spinning around, stumbling back a couple steps, Nova stopped to catch his breath. Panting, trying to get his lungs to retain air again, he looked back at Noa—she was back in her stance, still once again. He couldn't help but grin.
"I don't have any more time to mess around," Noa warned him. "You've got one last chance."
"All I need," Nova sighed, rising up from his knees to face her again.
They stood toe to toe again, each one taking their own stance. They both stood still this time, letting the wind brush past them on its way through the otherwise empty plaza, only to crash against the goliathan temple. The moment the wind itself was still, they took their cue.
Again, Nova made the first move. He brought in a single punch, prepping for a second like last time; as Noa occupied herself with his fists, however, he dropped his entire body, squatting on his tiptoes and fingertips before throwing his leg behind himself and then around his own center of gravity. Catching her off guard, he felt the back of his heel connect with her shins, toppling her. Though Noa managed to stay on her feet, Nova had enough of a window to make his next move. In one spiraling motion, he threw his upper-body upward and around, coming up behind Noa at the perfect angle to connect both his fists with the space between her shoulders, sending her stumbling in another direction. This time she was the one to struggling for breath.
Turning to face Nova, Noa prepared for his next line of attacks, unable to do more than block the blows that came. Each punch he threw she would slap or veer away; each kick he tossed she would buffer with her own raised, braced leg. As she wrestled to catch her breath, she continued to fight. Though Nova was clearly ready to give her a break—as evidenced by a slight pause he had made before launching into her after winding her—she would not accept. Noa had somewhere to be, and she had spent entirely too long trying to explain that to Nova through words alone.
The maxim came to her again and she made her decision: he wouldn't listen to words, so she would explain her haste with her art.
Her lungs seized the air greedily, giving her control once again. With resolution and finality, Noa caught Nova's next punch, keeping it where it was; he had sent his second punch before realizing the first hadn't been deflected but detained, only to have both his hands detained. Mustering all her strength, Noa tugged at his arms, her feet leaving the ground and plowing into his chest; with one twisting motion, she managed to throw Nova off his feet and spin him around in the air. He managed to land on his feet, but his footing was awkward enough for her to let his arms go and start in on him with her next phase. One punch to the space just below his right ear, a jab with her fingertips to the space above his collarbone—he brought one arm up to block, but she tossed it aside with ease—a palm-strike to his solar plexus once again, and both hands to lock hold of one of his arms and work her leg behind his knee. In one fell swoop, she tossed all his growing weight over her hip, throwing him backward, over his own head, landing him flat on his front. Sweeping her foot back, she threw it forward and high into the air, bringing her heel down like a hammer to the space between his shoulders.
Right before connecting the sole of her shoe with a vulnerable part of his spine, Noa stopped her foot entirely, freezing not even an inch from his body. She kept her foot there for second before craning it back to the ground.
With what little energy he had left, Nova rolled over to look her in the eye.
"Are you all right?" Noa asked him, standing over his almost motionless pile of a body.
Managing a cough and a laugh, Nova looked back up at her, smiling still. "I've never heard of a warrior asking their opponent if they're 'all right'; usually they just finish them off."
"I'm not a master," Noa said, looking away. "I'm just someone blowing through town."
Turning on her heel, she walked away, starting where she had left off before, back on her journey. Nova watched her from the ground, gazing upon the steadily shrinking sight of the girl who had managed to plant him like a seed. He couldn't stop smiling that whole time.
"For what it's worth, Ms. Graystone," he muttered to himself, praying she might sense the spirit of his words at least, "I do hope we get to meet again. You may not think you're a master, but you certainly deserve the honor of one."