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assumed a low stance as well, one tip of his pike pointing towards his opponent. As the pair circled one another it was obvious Merreck was reading him, trying to surmise whether Vance knew how to handle the denn'bok. Twice he flipped one end of his pike, clattering the end of Vance's weapon. Vance ignored his tentative strikes, waiting, knowing that Merreck could not resist taking the initiative and attempting to cause him much pain as quickly as possible.

As expected, Merreck made his move, flicking his pike upward to deflect Vance's weapon and moving in close. Anticipating the move, Vance spun sideways and away from his opponent. He knew the Minbari was fast and would have a contingency for at least four or five possible counters. Vance anticipated one of them, swinging his pike around to guard his rear. The fortuitous move blocked the weight of Merreck's pike, which slammed down on his own. Vance's shoulder blades would have taken the brunt of the attack had he not blocked.

The two faced each other once more, this time standing where, seconds ago, the other had been. Merreck smiled. 'Remember what I told you, human,' he said. Vance remembered the Minbari's jibe that no human had ever bested a Minbari in combat.

'Talk is cheap,' Vance bit back, rushing in.

The tip of his pike almost struck Merreck's face, but the Minbari leaned out of range. In one fluid motion, Vance brought the other end of his weapon around to strike Mer-reck on the side of the head. The Minbari's pike flashed upward to deflect the blow, just as Vance's foot whipped forward to take out Merreck's leg. With a simple sidestep, Merreck avoided the blow and hopped out of range of Vance's flailing pike.

Merreck's skill infuriated Vance. The Minbari had parried or avoided every blow, and Vance
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