A futuristic duel on the edge of a skyscraper balcony can sometimes be the foundation of something much, much sweeter.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

These things tend to start with a glance, a listless longing from across some hazy, sweat-soaked bar. For Poppy and Boheme, their romance began with a duel on the balcony of some non-descript skyscraper. No "pistols at dawn," no seconds, no doctors – just two masters with their finely crafted hilts extending into flourishes of energy as their blades. Steel blades were clumsy and useless against the materials folks were using as armour reinforcement. Steel could stun, but a Lapis blade in the hands of a true master could create ribbons out of a person.

It had been a lifetime since iron became impossible to find and even more difficult to synthesize. Lapis had begun its life as an artisanal prop replica shop, tucked away against some mountain on the outskirts of Vancouver, British Columbia. Even before iron fell out of favour as a material, Lapis had taken a hard stance against impacting the environment. Wood that Lapis used for their work was renewable and could only be sustainably sourced, usually from the forests on Lapis' property. Lapis' movement from props to mechanical instruments of death was slow and methodical. Science led the way. Neither Poppy nor Boheme understood how a chemist in Lapis' mountain lab came to the discovery that brought them their blades nearly fifty years later, but both masters wouldn't be who they were without those blades as extensions of their limbs.

Boheme slipped into their stance, pulling their willowy body into a lithe line. This moment was nothing to them – they had nothing against their opponent – but it was everything to their benefactor. This pay-day could set them up for years, ensuring a future filled with creativity, not destruction. A final moment against a worthy opponent, even if the purpose of the duel was opaque, and their life could finally begin.

Poppy noticed Boheme's tensed position and slid to her opponent's left, drawing herself into the answer to the question being asked by Boheme's blade. She would stand firm, her grooved black shoes fighting to find purchase on the slick balcony. The sky had cracked open, it was raining. Neither duelist had noticed. Or, if they had, they'd made no attempt to move back inside the penthouse apartment.

Too much potential for collateral damage. There had to be millions of dollars' worth of art in that place.

Poppy's blade clicked to life, gently sizzling in the falling rain. Boheme's was close behind. Though the hilts were uniquely their own, the blades themselves were identical. Top of the line Lapis swords, humming in harmony as Boheme pressed their reach, nicking the tip of Poppy's blade before returning to form.

A test. Poppy knew that she had an opportunity to assess her opponent's edge in that moment, but she chose to strafe in a wide arc, circling Boheme in one smooth motion. As Boheme turned to meet Poppy, she slid forward, her blade licking against Boheme's reinforced catsuit. Cosmetic damage to the fabric, but nothing more. The edge of Poppy's blade glittered pale yellow, indicating the force of impact.

Another test.

The two masters were teasing one another, gently goading the other into striking and giving away the game first. "Playground tactics but make it life or death" had become the mood on that rain-slicked balcony. A chill was beginning to set in as September began to give way to autumn's moodiness. Poppy shivered and tapped her boot against the floor to activate her bodysuit's internal heating. Boheme hadn't moved at all, a jungle cat on the hunt with prey a few footfalls away.

No words were exchanged as Boheme lunged first; a powerful extension designed to tip the opponent off-balance. Poppy modified her stance to ensure the blow glanced off of her own blade. Both blades glowed purple, indicative of Lapis blades "seeing" one another. She redirected the energy back towards Boheme. It was a dance that both masters knew well, but neither of them wanted to be there all night. This wasn't for gold medals or accolades, after all. This was breathing and dying and the first of lasts. They both knew it, though they knew nothing of one another.

It was money.

It was power.

For Boheme, fighting was like having great sex. The thrill was in the chase, the courtship in the lead-up to intimacy itself. Boheme lived for moments like that. Just for those moments, everything could be perfect and possible. Fighting gave Boheme that glorious rush that they spent most of their life pursuing, from the tips of the curls on their head to the soles of their feet. That energy flowed from their body to their blade, languidly searching for more ribbons to cut.

If this was going to be their last fight, Boheme would make it a song worth dancing to.

Poppy sliced through Boheme's daydream, nearly taking their left ear in the process. It licked angrily at the flesh, leaving a sliver of blood to trickle down Boheme's neck. Boheme barely noticed, tightening up their stance and looking for a weakness to exploit. There was the slightest indication that Poppy had injured her right ankle, which meant that she stepped back on her left, not her right, despite being right-handed. Boheme cracked their blade on the ground underneath their opponent's feet, trying to trip her up.

Just as Boheme was about to lunge and take off the woman's hand, Poppy took a running leap at them, flipping in a corkscrew and landing gracefully at Boheme's back with her blade humming against the back of their neck.

Part Two