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a flick of his wrist, Vance extended his own denn'bok.

Merreck stepped forward, entering the combat circle. Vance didn't hesitate to follow him. Both immediately adopted defensive stances, staring into each other's eyes despite the constant distraction of acolyte after acolyte bursting into the hall.

Waiting for Merreck to make the first move might have been Vance's best option, but he was too angry to stop himself. He wanted to end this as quickly as possible. He slid in low, blocking any noise from outside the circle, focusing all his attention on Merreck and trying to read him as best he could. The Minbari made no reaction until the last second, anticipating Vance's combination and blocking his first blow. Vance swung his weapon around to counter the block, but Merreck read him and blocked that too, quickly countering. The denn'bok swept downward, and Vance heaved himself backward and out of range. He quickly readied for Merreck's subsequent attack. If he had learned anything from his previous defeats, it was that his opponent was a relentless foe.

True to form, Merreck leapt in with a second overhead strike. Vance raised his denn'bok high to block. As the weapons clashed, Vance felt the shockwave reverberate through his hands and down his forearms. Merreck struck down again, and Vance held his denn'bok defensively. Too late, Vance spotted Merreck's blow was merely a feint. At the last moment the Minbari halted his downward sweep and instead jabbed forward, smashing Vance's nose. He fell backwards, tears streaming from his eyes. Despite the pain and shock, Vance maintained his concentration, turning his fall into a fluid backward roll and immediately finding his feet.

Blood poured from his nose. He could hear its patter as it struck the cerracrete floor. After
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