The wyrd witch slapped a hand to his wrist and growled. His eyes blazed red at the grinning man across from him.
"You're fast, at least," Duncan muttered to his friend, rubbing the stinging wound the practice foil had left behind. Tristan grinned wider, and offered a mock bow.
"Have to be in my line of work," the gunslinger remarked, nodding his head and returning to his defensive stance. "Fast, or dead. Those are your choices, I believe."
"Can't argue with that," Duncan replied, hefting his blade up once more before springing forward.
The old barn rang with the sound of metal on metal, the wet strike against unprotected flesh, the creak of boots and Tristain's leather gloves. The men fought in full dress, Duncan's coat buttoned up tight, his beret never slipping one centimeter from his pepper-gray hair. Tristain's cream-colored shirt clung to his sweating form, revealing thin ribs and the odd red mark where his opponent had landed a telling blow. Blade against blade, they were almost an even match, trading one blow for another across the dusty floor of the barn. They'd been at it for an hour or so, and neither was yet willing to admit his own exhaustion.
Finally, though, it was Tristain who called a halt. He held up one black-leather hand, breathing like a bellows. "Enough," he huffed, sheathing his sword at his beltside. "Enough. I'm going to drop."
It was Duncan's turn to grin. "Had enough already? You Follingsworths have gone soft. Used to be you could go all day, a year or two ago."
"I'm slinging steel, not making love to you," Tristain replied, grinning despite the jab. "If we were abed, Duncan, you'd be the one gasping for breath."
"Yeah, but still begging you to stop." The witch took a seat against the barn wall, setting his blade in the dust beside him. He pulled an oilskin from his bag, and tossed it to the grateful man across from him. Tristain had a drink, poured a little down his back, and threw the container back to his friend. The barn was silent for a time save for the slowing breaths of the two combatants, and the odd chirrup of perplexed sparrows, high above in the rafters.
Eventually, Duncan remarked to the world at large, "You're a dumbass, though."
Tristian bristled, looked up from fiddling with his shirt button. "I beg your fucking pardon, sir?"
The witch shook his head. "I don't mean stupid. I mean a dumbass. Your fighting style. It sucks."
"You suck!" Tristain replied angrily, cursing inwardly as he said it.
"Well said, but hear me out." Duncan shifted into a squat, and pointed at Tristain's slender blade.
"You fight with the one sword," he said, nodding. "You fight well with it. Practiced. Swift."
The gunslinger nodded, eye narrowed. "Yeah, I do. I was trained that way for years."
Duncan smirked. "It shows. One on one, dueling, you do all right. You can even hit me, and that's not bad." He paused, and shook his head. "But how many monsters on the Colony fight like that?"
Tristain opened his mouth to speak, and then seemed to think better of it. While he was wrestling with his thoughts, Duncan continued. "The answer, of course, is practically none of them. They have claws and wings and pistols of their own, and katzbalger and knives and spells. They aren't diddling around with dueling blades."
His friend snorted. "I have guns too, you know," he remarked, jerking his thumb at the untidy pile of firearms he'd brought with him. "Can fill the air with fire in under three seconds."
Duncan nodded. "Of course you can. And when your guns are empty? If someone with anything bigger than a butter knife survives?"
Tristain frowned, and said nothing. He could see the other man's point, of course, even if he didn't like it. The wyrd witch, for his part, said nothing, and waited for Tristain's inevitable question.
"Well, what should I do then?" Tristan finally spat. "Not fight? Bleed endlessly upon our foes?" He looked away, sullen. "Go home?"
"Come on," Duncan said, scooting a bit closer to place a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Ain't like that. You just gotta adapt a bit is all. Learn something new. Here. Take this."
Standing, bones cracking, Duncan got up and walked over to his kit. With a kick of his toe, he flipped his sun-gold buckler into the air. Catching it with one hand, he offered it to Tristain with a smile.
"Try this," he said, not unkindly. "Use this to start a fight, and your guns to end it. You don't have to change everything about yourself, or give up. You just need to start fightin' a bit smarter."
Gingerly, Tristain took the shield's handle in his fist, and gave the air a few practice punches. "It's light," he complained, frowning at the defensive accessory. "And it doesn't go with my clothes at all."
"Just try it, you fancy bitch. Fight smarter, remember?" Duncan stretched his arms over his head, muscles groaning, before reaching down for his own sword. He drew the weapon's hilt to his forehead, offering Tristain a gentleman's salute.
Fight smarter, Tristain thought to himself, and smirked. He could do that.
"So I hear you're screwing a crazy broad," he offered, eye flashing above a knowing grin.
Duncan shook his head. "See, now I have to beat you," he replied, and charged.