I wheezed a little as I took the measure of my opponent. I’m not in bad shape, but this guy had me outclassed in every way. Strength, agility… heck, it even seemed impossible for me to hurt him. I spat and rushed him, hauling back and swinging the bat as hard as I could. But he just caught it in one hand, wrenched me towards him, and then delivered a hammer blow to my chest that sent me staggering back, gasping for breath. What exactly had I gotten myself into?
“Yer sure, Matchew?”
“I wouldn’t have called if I wasn’t. That ice tree-thing we took on in the Nevernever nearly took my head off. I need to learn how to fight better. And not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re the best I know.”
“I dunno.” The Irish lilt on the other end of the phone faded a bit.
“Look, Conor – I’m not going to use my rebar on you, and I hope that you’d do me the same courtesy of pulling your punches a bit. I’ve got to step up my game a bit… besides,” I grinned, knowing I could hook him in, “how often do you get to beat up a priest and not suffer for it?”
I could hear his smile. “That’s a fair point. Tomorrow then?”
“Sure. Got a place we can meet?”
Conor rattled off an address. I recalled it from my wanderings – a large, abandoned construction site. Terrain challenges, and nothing that couldn’t survive being damaged (or that anyone would miss).
He was waiting for me when I arrived the next day. He already had his training gloves on, and was warming up a bit. I dropped my pack a little out of the way and pulled out an old baseball bat. I took a few experimental swings, and settled in to stretch a bit. Eventually I noticed that he was watching me. “You ready, or gonna do a bit more ballet?”
I stood up and swung the bat easily in a circle. It was a bit longer than my usual rebar shank, but lighter – and it wouldn’t hurt Connor much unless I connected really solidly. “Ha ha. Where do we start?”
“Let’s see what ye got. Best shot.” He tapped his chin as he stuck it out.
I hesitated a moment. I really hadn’t ever swung at a person before, and it gave me pause. It’s not going to hurt him, and he’s got to know what I can do-
Suddenly I was flat on my back. Conor was standing over me, where he’d pushed me down. “Focus. And don’t hesitate in a fight.” He held out his hand to help me up.
“Right.” I took my stance as he stuck out his chin, and I hauled back and swung at his head.
Sure enough, it was right there, stopped cold against the side of his head. My hands stung from the impact. He smirked, “That’s it?”
I pulled away. “You wouldn’t be saying that if it had been rebar.” I shook out my hands a bit.
He shook his head. “Meh. It would have stung, sure, but there still wasn’t much to it.”
I whipped the bat up across backhanded and clipped him on the chin. He rocked back a step. “You set for it.”
He massaged his chin. “Aright. Not a fan of the sucker punch, but ye called me on it.” He settled back into a boxers stance. “Let’s go.”
And with that, it was on. Time and again, I swung. Conor would easily block, and send me sprawling with a simple shove. After a few minutes, I waved him off for a break. “This isn’t working.”
Conor hadn’t even broken a sweat. “Yer tellin’ me. I’m more for fisticuffs than weapons, so I’m not sure how I can help ye.”
I took a swig of water, and offered Conor the bottle. “Ok, so the rebar is going to take practice.” After he drank, I accepted it back. “So we work on me not getting hit. Show me how to read an attack and move?”
He nodded. “Worth a shot. And that’s something I can teach.” He smacked his gloves together. “Up ye go then.”
I got to my feet and squared off against him again. This time I was on the defense with my bat. He tested me with a few easy jabs, coaching me where and how to look. I was doing pretty well – I thought – until he laid me out with a one-two-something combo that I’m pretty sure I leaned into.
“Jesus, Matchew-“ Conor suddenly stopped and looked up, “Sorry,” and then back down at me. “Yer supposed to get out of the way, not lean into it.”
I just laid on ground, a chunk of loose concrete digging into my back, and groaned a bit as I waited for the stars to clear from my vision. Suddenly I started laughing. “This brings back memories.”
Conor helped me up. “Ah, ye mean the night at Molly Maguires?”
I nodded as I shook off the last of the hit. “My first lesson on – and trip into – the nevernever. And my first encounter with your left hook.”
We sat down against the brick wall. “Ye heard it’s closed now?”
I started. “Molly Maguires? I thought we got that straightened out with Baron Montfort.”
Conor glanced over at me, and just raised an eyebrow.
I thought about that for a moment. “Oh! The year and a day thing. I didn’t think they’d move that fast.”
Conor nodded. “Letter of the law, boyo. Couldn’t have been a week after that time expired, and the old girl was shut down. Some noise about “management looking for a ‘national-level tenant.’”
I snorted. “And I suppose sourpuss is still holding a grudge?”
“Oh, aye. My kin excel at that.” Conor grimaced and held out his hand for the water bottle. “He’ll be lookin’ for revenge, but it won’t be quick or easy.”
“Hmph. Well, I guess he finally got his wish and has a finger in the Dallas bar scene. Maybe that will get him back in the Duke’s good graces.” I pondered for a moment. “Hey – what happened to Tommy? The owner?”
“Dunno. If he’s lucky, the Panthers only claimed the bar. ‘Course, he’s summer-kin, so they may have claimed him too.”
I accepted the bottle back and took a swig. “Might have to look into that.”
Conor looked at me skeptically. “We got lucky that fall – Montfort wasn’t expecting a rescue party to come after those kidnapees – or the Invictae.”
I stood back up. “Isn’t this what we talked about after Brandon and the Red Court? Standing up for those that can’t?”
Conor shrugged as he stood up. “Sure… Big Damn Heroes and all. But going after the local fae court half-cocked isn’t my idea of doing it smart, eh?”
“That’s part of why we’re here.” I spun my bat up into ready position. “Let’s keep going. Just give me a little more time before you throw another three-shot combo at me.”
Conor grinned. “Why? You’ve got to be ready for the unexpected…”