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The Match Against Beauty Incarnate
Bimini ran her guardians through low-impact muscle memory
exercises to wake up their bodies from the long trip and remind
them what they were capable of. Now and then Lucy noticed
Frankie watching her.
They broke for a light meal. Lucy, Serendipity, and Frankie
headed for the cafeteria. When they were out of the practice
room Lucy stepped in front of Frankie. “You’re pissing me off.
What is it?” she said.
“Nothing,” Frankie said.
Lucy poked her in the crotch with the hilt of her sword.
“Hey!” Frankie said.
“You were acting a little weird in there,” Serendipity said to
Frankie gave Serendipity a nasty look, then turned back to
Lucy. “It’s you and those goddesses. I don’t know what the fuck
your issue is, but you’ve got to get over it. You were crazy when
we got here. Scary crazy. Some of the girls thought you were go-
ing to kill yourself.”
“What?” Lucy said. “That’s insane!”
“You were acting pretty crazy,” Serendipity said to Lucy.
Lucy glared at her, then took a moment to compose herself.
She spoke to both of them. “Coach Kai has this, ‘crazy,’ idea we
should get to know the goddesses. She put Chrissy in my cabin
so we could talk.”
“Who?” Frankie and Serendipity said.
“Chrissy. The goddess in my cabin. Short for Chrysanthemum.
That’s her name.”
“They have names?” Frankie said. Lucy poked her in the
crotch again. “Just kidding! So, they’ve got names. Great. They
can talk. Great. I don’t know how talking to a vac-head can
screw you up so much, and I don’t care. But I do care if you’re
going to screw up on the temple.”
“If you’re so worried about me,” Lucy said, “then make sure
you fucking win your game!” She moved her arm as though to
poke her again. Frankie flinched.
“Ah, guys?” Serendipity said.
Lucy turned and poked Serendipity in the sternum with her
finger. “You too!”
“I just wanted to point out that we’re going to be last in line
for the food.”
Lucy scowled at her for a moment, then laughed. “Yeah, all
right, let’s go. And stop worrying about me, both of you.”
“I’m not worried,” Serendipity said.
After the meal everyone stayed in the cafeteria while the coaches
reviewed the match plan for the last time. Frankie would play the
first game. The Incarnate guardian opposing her was a new girl
promoted from the reserves in mid-season. She didn’t have much
of a performance history to build a strategy around, so they
would play a classic game to feel her out.
Serendipity would play the second game. Sky Molina, the
offensive coach, had noticed the Incarnate guardian her team
would be facing tended to step back when she moved to con-
front an attack from her right. Sky had put together a strategy
to take advantage of that foible and attack her hard on the
R. H. Watson
Lucy was the clean-up guardian: she played if either Frankie
or Serendipity lost. Her team would be assembled from the sur-
vivors of the first two games. If the casualties were too high,
they might have to play short handed―third games were heavy
on improvisation. Incarnate’s clean-up guardian had a tenacious
reputation like Lucy’s, but she could get reckless if pressed hard.
Frankie and the team for the first game headed to the locker
room. Lucy took her long-sword and walked up the tunnel to the
Burning Desire sideline. The sidelines were behind the one-way
glass that made up the long side-walls of the field. Once a team took
to the grass they were on their own; no more communication was
allowed with anyone off the field. The one-way glass insured no
signals were passed back and forth. An animation board was moun-
ted at each end of the side-line so the coaches and off-field players
could watch game-play taking place on the far sides of the temples.
The gardeners were putting the final touches on the field flora.
A clear greenhouse tent had been inflated above the stadium to
trap heat against the chilly autumn evening. Lights had been
launched to bathe the field in artificial moonlight bright enough
for everyone to see clearly while still suggesting real moonlight.
The waxing moon itself stood high in the sky over the east arena,
the one Beauty Incarnate would be defending. The spectators
churned in the stands looking for their seats.
Some of her club mates were coming out to watch the first
game or at least the start of it. Lucy and maybe one of the god-
desses were the only ones who had the luxury of waiting to see if
there would even be a third game.
“What was she like?”
Lucy turned to see Serendipity standing next to her. “Normal,
I guess, in a weird, goddessy kind of way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Her reasons for doing what she’s doing, I don’t get it. She’s
content to be a passive . . .” Lucy’s jaw tightened, “to accept
“Fate?” Serendipity said. “Whatever fate the game hands to her?”
“I was going to say, ‘shit,’” Lucy said, “But yeah, fate. Except
there is no fate—not when I’m up there.” She tapped once on the
glass where it intersected with her view of the temple-top. “She
said she actually pays attention to the game while she’s sitting on
the altar. I can understand how a goddess might zone out, think
about clouds or something, so she wouldn’t see what was coming,
but to sit there and know someone is swinging a sword at your
neck, and passively accept it, and expect me to do something
about it?” She closed her hand into a fist and pressed her knuckles
against the glass, increasing the pressure until the pane flexed out.
Serendipity put her hand on Lucy’s arm. “It’s a game. Don’t
Lucy relaxed and dropped her hand. “That was easier to do
last week, before my life got crowded with people I didn’t ask to
be in it.”
Serendipity removed her hand. “Your brother and Chrissy?”
“Two isn’t a crowd.”
“Okay, two people too many, that I don’t need fucking up my life.
No, three. Add Coach Kai and her crazy ideas. See? It is a crowd.”
Serendipity leaned close. “Coach Kai is a smart lady.”
“How did you . . . ? Chrissy said the same thing.”
“I’m going to go oil my swords,” Serendipity said. She turned
and strolled down the tunnel to the visitor’s locker room. Lucy
stayed and watched the gardeners walk off the field.
Francine and her friends shuffled into their seats on the south
side of the stadium. They overlooked the west arena, the one
Burning Desire would be defending. Francine handed a couple of
tickets to her bodyguards. “You have the two seats behind mine.”
“Thanks, we have our own,” the bodyguard in the brown coat
said. Francine didn’t know their names. She insisted her body-
guards dress like her friends, so they weren’t wearing their grey
R. H. Watson
body armor. She suspected what they were wearing would stop
bullets just fine.
“Is my brother here?” Francine said.
Brown Coat ignored her while discreetly inspecting her seat-
ing area and the surrounding spectators.
“You must know if you have colleagues here with Jayzen.”
“That’s privileged information,” Brown Coat said.
“Then you can tell me. After all, I am a daughter of privilege.”
“We’ll be nearby,” Brown Coat said. She and Dark Green
Coat slipped off in different directions to blend into the crowd.
As Brown Coat scanned the stadium, she regularly took in the
other two girls from her agency standing behind Jayzen in his
private box on the north side of the stadium. “Bitches,” she
mumbled to herself.
Jayzen was sitting above Burning Desire’s sideline. He
looked through his stadium glasses at the team wearing their
armor and holding their swords, but he couldn’t see Lucy. He
looked further along and saw her dressed in an athletic suit,
standing by herself. “What? I came all this way, and you’re
He checked his match program. Under, “Third Game (If
needed),” it said, “Guardian: Lucinda Marcia Star.”
The public address came alive. “Gentle friends, welcome to
this evening’s blood battle match between the visiting Burning
Desire from Heritage City, and Appalachi City’s own Beauty
“Burning Desire’s team for the first match will be . . .” The
announcer introduced the team members one at a time, ending
with, “Number twenty-two, Guardian Francesca Antoinette
Starling: four wins, five losses.”
Next, Beauty Incarnate’s players were introduced to
whoops and hollers from the home crowd. Then the announcer
said, “Friends, please welcome the Goddess.” The two god-
desses walked onto the field in their white vestments, they
were never named and were always referred to as a single en-
tity. In a curious ritual introduced by the fans during the
second year of blood battle, the spectators rose in silence and
many of them prayed.
“This is crazy,” Jayzen said.
Francine stood and pressed her hands together.
“Mother,” she said.
“We offer our Guardian,
“To stand in defense of the Goddess.
“The Goddess who guides us,
“And proffers, even her own blood,
“To sustain our quest for a worthy life.
“In humility, therefore,
“We ask for a place in your earthly bosom.”
Aldan, who had been saying the same prayer, leaned over to
her and said, “I don’t think that makes sense.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Francine said, “It’s the desire that counts.”
Stairways extruded from the front of both temple pyramids.
The goddesses climbed to the altars, and in a single move, turned
while spreading their vestments (so they wouldn’t sit on them)
and settled into place. They sat on their heels—knees together,
hands clasped in their laps, heads held high—and looked into
each other’s eyes across the full reach of the field. Their hair had
been braided into tight topknots to kept it clear of their necks and
to provide a convenient handle for the match officials to use
when checking for a valid beheading.
The stairs retracted. Francine, her friends, and everyone
settled into their seats. Two men dressed like monks stepped onto
high platforms on each side of the midfield and blew on long
horns that curved down ten meters and then out toward the hedge
line. The horns emitted a thrumming, space-filling sound.
* * *
R. H. Watson
Lucy watched Burning Desire’s goddess climb the stairs, and for
the first time, looked to see who it was. She was relieved it wasn’t
Chrysanthemum. Then she hoped this goddess would survive the
game, then she wondered what her name was, and then she real-
ized she didn’t know how goddesses were assigned to games. Was
it one for each game, like guardians, or if there was a third game,
did the surviving goddess reprise her role? She decided it would
have to be one per game since, like guardians, it was possible for a
goddess to die or be wounded even when her team won.
The reverberations of the start horns faded, and Lucy was on
her feet moving back and forth to watch the game develop in
each arena. The forwards for both sides advanced through their
six, thorn-enforced one-way paths in the midfield hedge. Each
path had a kink to block sight lines, making it impossible for
players to see what was happening in the other arena. Even
guardians could only see the top half of the opposition’s temple.
The coded message songs—a large collection of short vocaliza-
tions based on yodeling, overtone singing, pig calling, and whist-
ling—were the only way to coordinate strategy and send warn-
ings between a team’s guards in their own arena and their
forwards in the opposition’s arena.
The guards and forwards fought hard, but neither team was
having much success with their game plans. Then Burning De-
sire opened a charger path. Bridgett and Vanora took off, skating
in tandem. Not the best plan―a temple fight between a guardian
and two chargers required near flawless execution on the char-
gers’ part to give them the advantage―but the forwards’ mes-
sage songs indicated the branching paths near the temple were
clear, giving them room to maneuver and set up an attack from
Incarnate’s untested guardian waited patiently behind the
Goddess until Bridgett and Vanora reached the top of the temple.
She ducked under Bridgett’s sword, cut off both her legs, spun
and kicked Vanora off the temple-top, then jumped after her and
stabbed her in the chest when she bounced off the second tier.
She bounded back up, leapt over the temple-top, cut off Brid-
gett’s sword arm, then finished her off with her short-sword. It
might have seemed an overreaction: Bridgett was fast bleeding
to death and could only crawl with her arms, but Lucy under-
stood. Neutralize the immediate threats, then cleanup all possible
loose ends—leave nothing to chance.
“You’re a feisty little hornet,” Lucy said. “I like you!”
While the spectators were distracted by the fight on Incarn-
ate’s temple, their forwards cleared two paths and three of
their chargers headed for the hedge to attack Frankie. Lucy
ran along the sideline to follow them. A three charger attack
was harder to pull off, but was considered an even fight when
done well. This one wasn’t; one of the chargers was lagging
behind the other two.
Frankie’s forwards had sung a three charger warning, but there
was no sign of the third charger in Burning Desire’s arena.
Frankie jumped down to meet the first two who were approach-
ing on the inside south route. She impaled the lead charger, but
was nervous about the, so far, unseen third charger. That charger
had been delayed in Incarnate’s arena and was now skating fast
through Burning Desire’s lowland along the inside north route.
Frankie couldn’t see her from the south side of the pyramid, but
Burning Desire’s guards sang a warning. Frankie turned to regain
the top, and her balance wavered. She moved her short-sword
arm to compensate, and the second south-side charger arrived in
time to cut it off. Frankie still had her long-sword, but couldn’t
wield it two handed. She scrambled up the pyramid to setup a
second defense at the top. The third charger came up the north
side of the temple and sliced Frankie open from shoulder to pel-
vis when they met on the temple-top.
R. H. Watson
The Goddess could only be effectively beheaded from two po-
sitions—the sweet spots—one on each side of the altar and
slightly behind the Goddess. The charger stepped into the left
sweet spot and decapitated Burning Desire’s goddess.
“You screwed up, you fucking bitch!” Lucy averted her eyes from the
sight of the goddess’s head tumbling down the front of the temple.
A piercing horn blew, signaling a temporary halt to the game.
Everyone stood their ground. Three officials wearing purple
gloves ran out to check the goddess’s head. They lifted it with
care, handling it by its braided topknot, and inspected the cut. It
had to be respectful, entering between the mid-points of the
fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and exiting just below the
larynx—a clean, single stroke causing instant death and minimal
damage. They approved the cut, and signaled their decision by
placing a purple satin pillow on the spot where the head had
come to rest. They closed its eyes, and laid it on the pillow, rest-
ing on its cheek as though asleep. The fake monks blew their
thrumming horns, and the first game was over.
The charger who had cut off the goddess’s head stood guard
over it while collection teams for each club ran onto the field
with body bags to pick up the dead and their parts. They were
directed by spotters high up in booths, who had been keeping
track of the injured players and their dismemberments. The sur-
viving players stayed on the field and helped point out the loca-
tion of bits they had cut off. The spectators got into the spirit,
cheering when a finger that had been trodden into the muck of
the marsh was finally retrieved.
The collectors finished and ran off the field laden with with
their bags of fallen players. The steps extruded from the front of
the temples. The spectators hushed themselves and rose. Burning
Desire sent out a special collection team with a purple body bag
to claim their goddess’s body and head. After they cleared the
field, the Beauty Incarnate goddess stood, descended her stairs,
and walked off. The surviving players ran to their sidelines, end-
ing the post-game rituals.
There was a forty-five minute break until the next game. On
the field, gardeners touched up the flora, and cleaners scrubbed
dirt, blood, and waste off the temples, plazas, and charger paths.
Lucy prowled the sideline for a while and inspected the field.
The basic layout of all BB fields was the same, but the soil
and vegetation varied with the local environment. Lucy didn’t
have to worry about running and fighting down in the grass,
but she was the team’s lookout until she had to engage char-
gers on the temple. It helped if she had a feel for what made
this arena unique.
When she’d seen enough, she trotted down the tunnel to the
locker room. The players on the second game team were pumping
up each other’s emotions. The survivors of the first game had re-
treated to the showers to avoid infecting the second team with
their loser’s energy. Coach Molina was huddling with her char-
gers, getting them psyched for the attack she had planned for the
Incarnate guardian. Lucy turned the corner to the guardian lockers.
“Hi, Lucy,” Serendipity said. She was putting on her helmet
and collecting her hair into a curly red fireworks burst to stick
out the back.
“Hey, Dippy,” Lucy said. She walked behind Serendipity and
ran her fingers along the new indentation in her own locker door.
She turned to Serendipity and opened her mouth.
“You want to play so bad you can taste it,” Serendipity said.
“You want to psych me up, so I’ll win, right?”
“Fuck yes.” Lucy said.
“That sounds insanely confident. You know something
R. H. Watson
“No. I just think you shouldn’t worry so much.”
“I’m not worried. I want to win, and I’m counting on you to get
me on the temple. Yeah, I can taste it. It tastes bitter. I like bitter.”
“It tastes like butterscotch to me.” Serendipity reached out and
brushed a strand of hair off Lucy’s forehead. “I wish I had your hair.
It’s so dark and mysterious. I don’t want your eyes, though. They’re
dark—yes, but honest. I wouldn’t know what to do with eyes like
that. You can’t hide anything in them. Don’t even try. They used to
call eyes like yours, cow eyes. It was a complement.”
A gong sounded and the team for the second game whooped,
butted helmets, slapped fannies, and headed out to the field.
Serendipity picked up her long-sword and tapped her butt with
Lucy slapped her cheek. “Make sure they die horribly.”
“They will,” Serendipity said and whisked herself up the tunnel.
This time Lucy avoided looking at the goddesses for either team.
The horns sounded and the game began. There were four narrow
charger paths through the hedge. Like the forwards’ paths, they
curved enough to prevent players from seeing through to the other
arena. Between the hedge and the plaza, those paths branched into a
dozen interconnected routes. Sky Molina’s plan was to quickly gain
dominant plaza to plaza control over the two north charger paths
and their branches, and not worry about the south paths. All four
chargers were waiting on Burning Desire’s north plaza.
Burning Desire sent their forwards through the three northern-
most one-way paths. Incarnate launched a symmetrical flanking
attack designed to control the north and south charger routes and
force Burning Desire’s guards into the center of the field.
The message singing started. Serendipity reported on In-
carnate’s attack strategy, and knew the Incarnate guardian was
alerting her forwards to Burning Desire’s asymmetrical attack,
but they were already in the hedge and committed to their
Four Incarnate guards were covering the charger paths on the
north side of their arena. All twelve Burning Desire forwards
came out of the hedge and fell on them. Even at those odds,
guards were hard to kill. Two fell, taking two forwards with
them; the other two were pushed back.
Burning Desire’s guards were massed on the north side of
their arena. Usually, there weren’t enough guards to successfully
ambush forwards as they came out of the hedge paths. Enough
forwards always get through to flank the ambushing guards, but
by committing to Sky’s plan, and only trying to control the north
side of the field, they had the depth to stage a successful ambush
on the three north paths.
Esmerelda and Fausta took up positions on each side of the
middle north ingress path. An Incarnate forward rushed out, hold-
ing her sword up and forward, ready to block or attack. Esmerelda
stabbed under her arm and into her heart, an instant kill. She held
her position in case there was another forward in the path. The
second forward saw her teammate die and came out sideways fa-
cing Esmerelda. To make themselves lighter and faster, forwards
sacrificed most of the back armor that guards wore. Fausta stabbed
underneath the strip of armor the forward wore across her upper
back, another instant kill. They both stepped away from the hedge.
The guards were singing the tally, “One from the inside north path
two each from the middle and outside paths.” Cinnamon, on the
outside path, had been stabbed deep in her thigh by the second for-
ward and was bleeding to death.
Another forward jumped out of Esmerelda’s path. Chiyo
stepped behind her and chopped her in the back. She fell on her
stomach and Esmerelda stabbed her in the back of the neck. They
had killed half of Incarnate’s forwards and only lost one guard.
They spread out along the center line of the arena. Incarnate
was starting to adjust to Burning Desire’s strategy: their remain-
ing forwards were moving to keep control of the south paths and
to try and cut off at least one of the north paths. They pounced on
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the guard closest to the temple and killed her. They were trying
to flank Burning Desire along the back end of the field, but
pulled back when they realized all four chargers were on the
north plaza. Chargers normally stay out of the defense, but with
only six forwards left, Incarnate didn’t want to risk drawing them
into the fight.
Esmerelda and the other guards had done their job and taken
control of the two north paths in Burning Desire’s arena.
Serendipity was regularly singing out, “Two north paths open.”
What was taking the forwards so long on the other side of
Xaun Henatta, the Burning Desire forward captain, was singing,
“Outside path open; inside path closed.” Sky’s plan required both
north side paths.
By staging such an asymmetrical attack, the coaching staff
knew they were giving Incarnate an opening to make a similar
attack on Serendipity along the south side, but they would have
to put their attack together on the fly. Their chargers were spread
out: two on the north plaza, two on the south. Erdoza, Florence,
and Candice rushed to the north plaza to cut off those two char-
gers before they could move to the south plaza. A guard
wounded Florence giving one of the chargers time to slip around
the front of the temple. They backed the other one into the north
Casualties were mounting in both arenas, and contrary to
Sky’s plan, Incarnate was the first team to open two charger
paths. Xaun sang out to Serendipity, “Warning: three chargers on
the two south paths!”
When the chargers took off, Lucy hustled to the west end of the
sideline to watch the looming temple fight. Of her fellow guardi-
ans, Serendipity was the one she most enjoyed watching. The
girl had a deceptive way of moving so you never saw what was
coming next. Off the field, she was a ditz, but Lucy was begin-
ning to suspect that was all an act to trick people into not seeing
the wrath she was bringing their way.
One of the Incarnate chargers tried to flank Serendipity, but
Chiyo and Mim blocked the branch path she was angling toward,
forcing all three chargers to approach the temple on Serendipity’s
right. Serendipity didn’t have a right-handed foible to exploit.
They were skating straight into her wrath.
The two chargers on the inside route arrived first, the leader
angled to the rear of the south side of the pyramid, the other to-
ward the front. They kicked off their skates and leapt to the first
tier. Serendipity skipped down like a naïve fairy about to be
caught between them, then she slipped to the rear of the pyramid.
Her long-sword flickered like gossamer and the sword arm,
shoulder, and head of the rearward charger flew off her body.
The charger at the front of the pyramid leaped off the second
tier on her way to the Goddess. Serendipity reversed direction
with such a light touch of her foot, Lucy couldn’t see how it had
the force to so completely change her direction and momentum.
The charger reached the fourth tier, one vault away from the
sweet spot and the Goddess’s head. Serendipity flew by and
slipped her short-sword into the charger’s spine. The girl’s legs
stopped working, and she fell on her face.
Serendipity again completely changed direction with a
slight kick and dove head first down the pyramid with her
long-sword extended. She impaled the third charger just as
she reached the temple, then curled, tumbled off the pyramid
while extracting her sword, and landed on her feet at ground
level. She removed the arms and legs from a forward who
happened to be standing too close, turned, and flitted back up
the temple. (For a weird moment Lucy thought she had
sprouted wings.) She dragged her long-sword through the
back of the paralyzed charger as she breezed by.
Lucy pounded the glass with her fist. “Yeah! Wow!”
R. H. Watson
* * *
By the time Serendipity reached the temple-top, Burning De-
sire’s forwards had opened both north routes; all four chargers
were on the move through the hedge, skating in tandem, two on
each path. Bethany and Nara arrived first and ascended the
temple, staying slightly to the rear of the guardian. The guardian
stepped back to meet Nara and blocked her sword with a cross-
handed twist that brought the tip of her blade up through Nara’s
ribs and heart. She again stepped back, swinging her long-sword
at Bethany. Bethany deflected the sword, but the guardian had
her short-sword out and stuck it up under Bethany’s jaw and into
her atlanto-occipital joint, damaging her spinal cord just below
its exit point from her skull. Bethany collapsed in full paralysis;
not dead, not yet.
They had succeeded in pulling the guardian to the rear, away
from the Goddess. Grenada was on the temple leaping for the
sweet spot. The guardian swung around, and with two running
steps, closed on Grenada and stuck her long-sword under her
shoulder blade. For a moment the guardian’s right side was ex-
posed. Kelcie jumped for the temple-top and stabbed up through
the guardian’s ribs, but she wasn’t sure if she had scored the
heart. She wrenched her blade around, twisted the guardian off
balance, and kicked her feet out from under her. The guardian
and Grenada tumbled down the pyramid.
Erdoza, Florence, and Candice had been holding the fourth In-
carnate charger at bay in the northeast corner of the plaza. When
she saw all four Burning Desire chargers burst through the
hedge, she fought her way out, killing Erdoza and the already
wounded Florence. She pushed Florence’s body into Candice,
looked at the temple and saw her guardian sliding down the pyr-
amid tiers with the limp articulation of the raggedy dead. She
kicked off her skates and ran for the temple to replace the guard-
ian as the Goddess’s defender.
* * *
Kelcie didn’t hesitate after flinging the guardian off the tem-
ple-top. She ran for the altar, starting to swing her sword. As
she ran through the sweet spot, her blade entered and exited
the goddess’s neck. The Incarnate charger reached the top a
moment too late.
There was an hour break between the second and third games to
give the second game survivors time to cleanup and prepare to
Lucy cornered Serendipity on her way to the shower. “You did
a swan dive off the pyramid! Where did that come from?”
“Not a swan dive—a swimmer’s dive: low, long, get in the
water fast. A swan dive would have taken too long. I like to
swim, and win, during the off season; strictly amateur. You
should try it; it’s fun.”
Angela, the defensive coach, came over. “Nice move with the
dive,” she said. “That’ll muddle up everybody’s plans for attack-
ing you in the next few games. Keep ’em guessing.”
For the tiniest moment, a slight, non-ditzy smile crossed
Serendipity’s lips, then she tapped the tip of Lucy’s nose with her
finger. “See? Your turn to win. You really shouldn’t have wor-
ried.” She disappeared into the shower room.
Lucy picked up her short-sword from her locker and warmed up
in a practice room. She was looking for the relaxed but ready
state that she could maintain indefinitely while waiting for
Beauty Incarnate to bring her a fight. When she was satisfied she
had it, she went back to her locker and stripped down for the
game. She tied on her shoes, fastened her short-sword scabbard
to its harness, pealed the backing off the harness saddle, and
stuck it to her back, then drew and sheathed her short-sword a
R. H. Watson
couple of times to be sure her arm knew where it was. She pulled
on her helmet and picked up her long-sword.
The casualties in the first two games had been high. Lucy’s
team would be short two guards and one charger. Incarnate could
field a full team.
Angela Strong came over to talk strategy. “What do you
think?” she said.
“Anybody who steps on my temple dies,” Lucy said.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less, but so you know, with seven
guards, we’re going to concentrate on holding one charger path
open. The forwards will try to open up as many branches in In-
carnate’s arena as they can. We’ll concentrate on the south most
path so we can keep our backs against the side-wall. Incarnate’s
going to expect this; they just don’t know if we’ll defend north
or south. They might try a flanking attack again, but if I were
them, I wouldn’t worry about our one path, I’d come right up the
middle to get control of the other three.
“It will be entirely up to our forwards to block those paths in
Incarnate’s arena, so there’s a better-than-usual chance you could
get hit with a full, four-charger attack.”
“Doesn’t change my plan,” Lucy said.
“I didn’t think it would.”
The warning gong sounded. Lucy butted helmets with every-
one around her, then slapped butts and backs as the team headed
up the tunnel. She let everyone go ahead of her since she would
be the last player on the field. She was about to head up the tun-
nel when Coach Kai came over.
“Everybody thinks I’ve gone crazy,” Lucy said. “They’re wor-
ried I’m going to screw up.”
“I’m not worried,” Coach Kai said.
“I’m going to kill anyone who sets foot on my temple.”
“Except the Goddess.”
“Yup, except her.” Lucy whooped and ran up the tunnel.
Screw Coach Kai’s plan!
Serendipity was at the top of the tunnel dressed in street
clothes. She gave Lucy a thumbs up, and slapped her ass.
The team ran onto the field as they were announced, ending
with, “Number fifteen, Guardian Lucinda Marcia Star, seven
wins, three losses.” Lucy unsheathed her long-sword, ran onto
the field and up to the top of the pyramid.
Francine’s entourage cheered and waved their hands.
“Go Lucy! We love you!” Francine yelled through cupped hands.
With his stadium glasses, Jayzen watched Lucy lope up the pyr-
amid tiers and couldn’t stop thinking about the previous Saturday
night on the exercise mats.
Lucy turned forward and assumed her relaxed stance with the tip
of her long-sword resting on the temple surface in front of her.
She waited while the other team was announced.
Then the goddesses came out. The stadium fell silent. Lucy
felt a vibration in her feet as the steps extruded from the front of
the pyramid. She kept her eyes on the other temple and watched
the Incarnate goddess climb the steps. This is crazy. I can’t de
fend the Goddess and avoid looking at her. Coach Kai's experi-
ment was only half finished. She gave in and looked at the front
edge of the altar. The Goddess's face came into view.
Chrysanthemum stepped onto the altar, looked up, and
winked! Lucy’s mouth gaped. She closed it immediately, then
didn’t quite suppress a grin, and then . . . winked back. Chrysan-
themum smiled a sly little smile, wiped it from her face, turned
while spreading her vestment, and settled in place on the altar, in
perfect coordination with the Beauty Incarnate goddess.
“Did something just happen?” Francine said.
“Like what?” Aldan said.
“I don’t know, I thought I saw . . . Ah. It was nothing.”
R. H. Watson
* * *
Jayzen sat forward with the stadium glasses pressed to his eyes.
He felt jealous, but he didn’t know why.
Gunda Thorstenson’s make-believe monks blew their game horns.
Lucy was pumped; ready to take on the world to defend
Chrysanthemum. I mean the Goddess. She lived for this, but the
winks had made her giddy, and giddy made her nervous. She
didn’t see how giddy was going to help her kill chargers.
Down in the grass, the guards had positioned themselves to
defend against a flanking move, just in case. All three chargers
waited on the south plaza for their south-side route to open.
As Angela had predicted, the Incarnate forwards came through
the middle of the hedge. The guards shifted and spread out to
protect the south charger route.
Two Incarnate forwards ran down the field and swung in to
isolate the guard on the temple end of the line. One of those for-
wards angled dangerously close to the temple―dangerous for
her. There were no threats to the Goddess in Burning Desire’s
arena. Lucy decided to help even the odds for her guards. She
ran down the pyramid, hit the front corner of the bottom tier, and
as she turned to run back up, she stabbed down through the for-
ward’s neck and into her heart. Just like Charlotte did it, except
with a big fat sword.
The two guards on the west end ganged up on the other for-
ward who had become disoriented when her teammate dropped
dead for no apparent reason. They forced her back, wounding her
in the abdomen. The guards gave Lucy a nod of thanks, and she
flipped back a thumbs up.
Incarnate controlled the two north charger routes. Burning De-
sire’s guards pressed against their line to deny them clear control
of the inside south route.
The message songs from the Incarnate arena said Burning De-
sire’s forwards were attacking across the width of the field, but
pushing harder on the south to open the south charger path. The
Incarnate guards were pressing back on the north side to get at
least two paths open for their chargers.
Burning Desire’s guards couldn’t sustain a long fight: two
were dead; one was wounded. They were falling back and get-
ting pushed up against the south path―they were losing. The
fight deteriorated until only two guards remained alive against
six healthy Incarnate forwards and the wounded one. Incarnate’s
forwards controlled all four paths in Burning Desire’s arena.
Burning Desire’s forwards sang an alarm, “Four chargers on
four paths!” On learning that Burning Desire’s guards had lost,
Incarnate’s guards attacked hard on the other side of the hedge.
They took heavy losses, but cleared all four paths long enough
for their chargers to get through.
Four chargers on four paths gave them every advantage. They
skated out of the hedge, traveling fast and unhindered. Lucy saw
Han, one of Burning Desire’s chargers, move to intercept part of
the attack. She sang out a warning, calling Han off. She had seen
one of Incarnate’s chargers stumble; it wasn't a big stumble, just
enough to make her arrive late―that evened the odds. Lucy
didn’t want her chargers risking injury by playing defense. She
shifted her attention to the first three Incarnate chargers.
They arrived: two on the left, one on the right. For Lucy, time
began passing in hundredths of a second. Bimini’s kinesthetic
training was in charge―thinking took too long.
There was something odd about the charger coming up the
forward end of the pyramid on the left side; she should have
been the biggest threat, but instead Lucy turned, took a step
down toward the charger on the right, and handed her long-
sword off to her left hand. She reached out and stabbed the
charger through her eye―brain blood sprayed out. Lucy contin-
ued turning and handed the long-sword back to her right hand.
She pulled out her short-sword and leapt across the temple to
meet the charger arriving from the left rear. She caught the
R. H. Watson
charger’s long-sword between her crossed blades and used her
own long-sword to push the girl’s blade away while slashing
through her side with her short-sword, splitting her kidney and
severing her latissimus dorsi along with her abdominal ob-
liques. The impact spun the girl around. She was mortally
wounded, but not mortal enough. Lucy sheathed her short-
sword while bring her long-sword around. Taking hold of it
with two hands, she cut through the girl’s belly from her rectus
abdominis to her spine taking away her ability to articulate her
thorax and cutting her descending aorta. She would be uncon-
scious in seconds. Lucy kicked her in the other kidney, toppling
her down the pyramid. The kick twisted Lucy around so she
landed back on the temple-top facing forward.
The charger on the front left, the one she ought to have at-
tacked first, was swinging at Chrysanthemum’s neck. Her foot
landed in the sweet spot and slipped―she was going to miss!
Her blade would hit Chrysanthemum in the shoulder. Lucy tried
to tell herself to stand her ground and let the charger split open
Chrysanthemum’s back, but her instincts were in charge and they
were screwing up! They let the momentum of her landing carry
her into a low crouch. What the fuck? From there, she stabbed up
and into the charger’s armpit, stopping her attack.
A blade buzzed by, just above Lucy’s head. The fourth char
ger! She realized what was wrong: the girl she had stabbed was
faking her miss, pulling her punch. If she had stood her ground,
the fourth charger would have cut off her head. Her instincts had
sensed the trick.
Lucy used her long-sword to twist the front charger away
from Chrysanthemum. She couldn’t see the fourth charger and
didn’t have time to look, but she could see her sword swinging
away; that told her everything she needed to know. She reached
back with her short-sword and felt it go into the charger’s gut,
then she twisted it up and shoved it into her heart. Lucy’s hand
was inside the girl’s belly; she felt her muscles relax as she died.
Despite the sword in her armpit, the front charger was trying
to swing her blade at Lucy’s shoulder. Lucy stepped inside her
reach, shoved her short-sword through her neck, and pressed it
back against her cervical vertebrae, cutting all the blood vessels
to her brain. She wedged her foot up against the girl’s chest and
pushed out, sending her backward. Off my temple!
The girl’s body fell onto one of Incarnate’s forwards. Lucy
looked around. Incarnate had sent their remaining healthy for-
wards onto the temple to backup their chargers, leaving all the
charger paths open in Burning Desire’s arena. They had bet
everything on their trick either killing Lucy or wounding her
enough so their forwards could finish her off.
Lucy sang out, “All paths open, three chargers ready.” She
looked down at her chargers. They looked back in disbelief. Four
Incarnate chargers had just swarmed up the temple. A couple of
seconds later, they were all dead and Lucy was dripping with
their blood, grinning like she had just received the best present
ever, and she wasn’t at all concerned about six forwards scram-
bling up the sides of the temple.
The song came back from the other side of the hedge, “Two
center paths open!” Lucy tipped her head toward the Incarnate
temple. Bethany and Kelcie nodded back. The rookie, Andrea, was
staring at Lucy, then her face lit up; she grinned back and all three
took off. Andrea had to be careful not to out-skate her teammates.
Lucy assumed her relaxed waiting stance: short-sword
sheathed at her back, arms at her sides, long-sword tip resting on
the temple-top in front of her feet. Forwards were almost as
heavily armored on their front upper bodies as guards, but their
necks, upper arms, thighs, and abdomens were all available,
more than she needed. Lucy waited a full second for the first for-
ward to reach the penultimate pyramid tier . . .
As the last dying forward tumbled off the temple, she
scanned around the field. The only Incarnate player left alive in
R. H. Watson
Burning Desire’s arena was the wounded forward, bleeding
from her abdomen.
There was movement on Incarnate’s temple. Andrea was run-
ning up the front, a dangerous move that Lucy wasn’t happy
with―she was risking committing a foul on the Goddess. Han
and Kelcie approached, one from each side, in a coordinated at-
tack. Han swung at the guardian’s legs, and Kelcie at her torso.
Their timing was off. The guardian stepped over Han’s blade and
ducked under Kelcie’s. Half way through her twisting dodge, she
cut off Han’s head, and opened Kelcie’s belly, but Andrea was
leaping over the corner of the altar. She plunged her sword into
the guardian’s back, turned, and beheaded the Goddess.
The officials approved the cut. The monks blew their horns.
The game was over. Then Lucy sheathed her short-sword, walked
up, alongside the altar, and put her hand on Chrysanthemum’s
shoulder. Chrysanthemum was startled and looked up. Lucy
winked. Chrysanthemum smiled, almost grinned, then cleared her
face and turned forward. A blush colored her cheeks. Lucy
squeezed her shoulder, let go, and trotted down the pyramid to
help the collectors find the pieces of those foolish forwards.
“Did you see that?” Francine said. She and her friends were
standing and cheering.
“I sure did!” Aldan was looking at Andrea who was guarding
the head of Beauty Incarnate’s goddess.
“I mean over here. Lucy touched the Goddess. They looked at
“You must have been seeing things again.”
“No, look. You can see Lucy’s bloody hand print on the god-
“That’s just some blood that splashed on her from the fight. It
happens all the time.”
“No, it’s not,” Francine said. “I think . . .”
“I think you wouldn’t understand.”
On the other side of the stadium, Jayzen said, “Let’s go,” to
his bodyguards. He tossed his match program in the trash on
his way out.
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