DargonZine F7, Issue 3

Duty



Morion caught himself staring at the moon again, and turned his attention back to the roll of parchment on his desk. He snorted in disgust when he realized that he had read the first paragraph at least four times without understanding it. He hated having to wade through legal documents. They were written in the most obscure and lengthy terms so that lawyers were never done out of a job by someone with the ability to read. He trusted the lawyer he employed, but he refused to sign anything until he understood exactly what he was signing. Elaref, his lawyer, had explained over and over the basic terminology, but Morion was a fighter, not a scholar, and it took time and practice to master those knotted words. Grimacing and steeling himself for the effort, he went back to the thick parchment with the intent to get through it this time. It was the last one he had to sign and seal.

 

Half an hour later, he was startled out of a reverie concerning the signet ring he wore on his left forefinger and how he had come to bear it by a knock on his chamber door. He glanced at the scroll and realized with dismay that he had only read to the second of six paragraphs. Rolling it up to do tomorrow, he said, “Come!”, and turned his attention to the door.

 

He had been expecting his seneschal, Riachon, calling him to his late and probably cold supper. The water clock in Morion’s study worked perfectly, and Riachon hated it when people ignored appointments, even dinner ones. His seneschal always made sure that Morion got dinner if he didn’t come down by himself. But, he made no guarantee as to its condition.

 

The figure that stood limned in the torchlight of the hall was not the middle-aged and somewhat portly one of Riachon. The tall, slim, young man that stood there was wearing the official tabbard of the Falcon Herald of Baranur, colored gold and green with a blue falcon displayed in the center. His long black hair was held back with a silver circlet bearing one small stone in the center of his forehead. An amethyst of that deep and pure color was very rare. It identified him beyond doubt as Coridan the Falcon Herald. The stone had been a gift of the Queen when Coridan was given the Tabbard, the Staff, and the Keys to the Great Books of Arms upon ascending to the position of Royal Herald of Baranur. Coridan was not dressed in riding gear and Morion wondered how long the herald had been in the castle before knocking on his door.

 

“Castle Pentamorlo is honored in receiving you, Master Coridan. Please, enter and have a seat. Shall I have some wine or other refreshment brought for you?” asked Morion.

 

“Thank you, Baron. Perhaps a little of that wonderful Huulon wine, if you kept any for yourself. I must thank you again for the wagonload you gave me – it is the best wine I have ever tasted.”

 

Morion stepped over to the dumbwaiter, wrote his wishes on the slate inside, and sent it down to the kitchens. “Come, Master Coridan, let us sit before the fireplace and be a little more comfortable.” The young herald settled himself while Morion poked up the fire until it was roaring. Little bells in the dumbwaiter jingled, and Morion retrieved the tray bearing two crystal goblets and a cool bottle of the golden wine of the type that he had given to Coridan as an Elevation gift.

 

After he had poured the wine and settled into a chair across a small table from the herald, Morion said, “What brings you to my school, Coridan?”

 

Coridan sipped his wine and smacked his lips. “As good as ever, Baron. Ah, but my news. Well, it seems that the King needs your help.”

 

Morion’s ice-grey eyes narrowed, and his mouth compressed into a thin, hard line. He had anticipated Coridan’s words, echoing as they did almost countless other pleas from the Crown he had received month after month for years. But, the King had never sent so important a person as the Falcon Herald to ask his futile question. “For what?” Morion demanded. “He has an army, and a whole legion of instructors. I wouldn’t teach his soldiers anyway. What could he possibly want that I would give him?”

 

Coridan looked at Morion, his aquamarine eyes seemingly wide and innocent. He said, “He needs your help, Baron. It IS your duty.”

 

Morion shouted, “No it is not!” and slammed his goblet down on the table between them hard enough to snap the thin stem and shatter the base. He looked at the broken goblet in his hand. With a muttered, “Sreth!” between clenched teeth, he hurled the bell of the goblet into the fire where it smashed loudly.

 

He stood and whirled around behind his chair, an angry scowl marring his face. Less loudly, but no less angrily, he said, “When is Haralan going to understand that I pay fealty to no one. My lands are my own, not held in fief for the Crown. You know as well as I that I and my family received special dispensation from King Nun as reward for a personal service I rendered him. That parchment was sealed in turn by Arenth, his brother, when Nun died and Arenth received the Crown, and then by Haralan, Arenth’s son and present King. That third seal made the dispensation permanent and irrevocable. My lands are my own and my family’s, with no requirement for fealty to anyone. The taxes I pay, I pay out of courtesy. I owe the King or Crown nothing. And no one calls me Baron – I gave back the six-pearled coronet to Nun, to Arenth, and to Haralan when they each tried to give me that title, with all the strings that go with it. I will not help!” His knuckles were white on the back of the chair by the time he finished.

 

Coridan bore Morion’s outburst with the air of one expecting it. He patiently waited while the older man ranted about the severing of his feudal obligations to Crown and King, granted and affirmed by the past three Kings. He knew about Morion’s refusal to bear the identifying coronet of a Baron, but a King’s award could not be so easily denied. The fighter had refused the obligation of further fealty to the Crown by refusing the circlet and title, but Coridan was a herald, and titles were important to heralds – especially acknowledging with respect one who bore a title, at least on paper.

 

When Morion was finally done, the herald said, “I must apologize for not making myself clear, my Lord. The duty that the King calls upon is not that of vassal to liege, but a duty that you, yourself, have taken on – the responsibility for those you have trained in this thriving school of yours.

 

“Reports have been coming in for several months now of trouble to the south. At first, the news was of what seemed to be an unconnected series of outlaw raids on caravans and other travelers. But, the attacks were not robbery. In every attack the travelers were killed to the last draft animal and all of the posessions were burned or broken and left behind.

 

“Then, three months ago came word of the first village destroyed. As with the caravan raids, everyone in the village was killed, and the buildings were set afire. The villagers didn’t have a chance.

 

“The attacks have been getting more and more frequent, from two a month to almost one a week. King Haralan has had legions of the army in the area, but the outlaws attack randomly and the King has had no success at all in even spotting them.

 

“However, our best seers have located the outlaws’ hideout. In the valley where the Zyaran river flows out of the Skywall Mountains there is a vast lake that Zyaran feeds and flows from. On an island in the lake’s center there is now a fortress without window or door, nor is there a bridge or causeway that links land to fort. Even knowing the location of the outlaws’ stronghold is no help to the King for the island is unassailable. Also, the leader controls a magic that is able to transport his men and himself directly to the scene of their attack. The few surviving observers have likened this magic to a giant floating mirror that the outlaws ride into, but not out the other side.

 

“The leader of these outlaws names himself BlueSword, and we have learned that he is a former pupil of yours. Two weeks ago in the ruins of a small village he had just sacked, the King’s men found a man, cruelly mutilated but still alive. He bore a message branded into his flesh. It was a challenge. BlueSword wants to fight you, Morion, and he intends to kill you, and then to destroy Baranur little by little. King Haralan asked me to deliver this news to you, in the hopes that I would at least get to your ear before your ire got me thrown out. It seems that he did choose the right messenger, although just barely.”

 

Coridan’s open smile eased the sheepish tension in Morion, and the teacher returned to the comfortable side of the chair and sat down. He sat silently thinking for a time, then said, “I must apologize for my outburst, Coridan. I was just fed up with Haralan’s incessant petitioning of my talents to ‘mold his fighting men into an unbeatable force.’ I…ah, souls and swords, I just never expected this of Kyle. Something is strange here.” He was silent for several moments more, trying to fit his memories of Kyle, who had been nicknamed BlueSword while learning here, to what he had just been told. Finally, he remembered his duties as host, and said, “Please accept the hospitality of my house, Master Coridan. If you can stay until lunch tomorrow, perhaps we can talk further, but now I must think on this. Thank you for bringing me the news. If I don’t see you tomorrow, you can assure the King that I will respond to BlueSword’s challenge to the best of my abilities.” Both men rose, and shook hands, and Morion walked the herald back down to the Main Hall. Grabbing a platter full of dinner leftovers, Morion then went back to his study to think about Kyle, now known as BlueSword.

 

Once again seated comfortably in the chair before the fire, Morion idly nibbled at the food on the tray, sipped from the leather flagon of mead he had brought up with the tray, and stared into the fire remembering Kyle. Young, mid-twenties, of an age with Coridan, fair haired, open-faced, very likeable and pleasant. He had come to the school with just enough money, mostly in small denominations, to cover the entry fee. But, he had exhibited plenty of raw talent and Morion had accepted him readily. He had taken to training like a goat to a mountain side, rapidly climbing the ladder of ability that Morion privately used to grade his students. In three and a half years, he had learned all he wished to, and had graduated with appropriate honors. He had left a little more than a year ago, and now it seemed that he had turned into some kind of monster bent on death and destruction. That just didn’t sound like him.

 

BlueSword. A nickname given to him by his fellow students, and for good reason. He had painted the blade of every one of his wooden and rattan practice swords a deep, almost purple blue. He didn’t tell anyone why until he passed the test of beating Morion himself using a large shield and a long sword against the teacher’s single short sword. At the simple ceremony after dinner that night, Kyle had brought out a magnificently wrought sword, said it had been in his family for generations. It had a simple yet elegant silver and gold hilt, with gently curved quillions and a large polished ball for a pommel. It also had a beautifully blued blade; a deep, metallic blue that rivaled the twilight sky. From then on, BlueSword wasn’t a joke any more – Kyle had earned it, and carried it proudly.

 

It bothered Morion that this should fall to him to resolve. He had no worries about beating Kyle BlueSword on the field. Morion’s skills had been earned over long and hard years of practice and use. Kyle’s months at the school and the months after could not have made him a match for the former soldier. Except for the thing that had turned Kyle into a madman. Morion almost fell asleep staring into the fire and wondering on that point, his mind circling the problem endlessly. Riachon finally came up and herded him off to bed, clucking absently about the leftovers that Morion had wasted by not eating what he had taken to his room.

 

After his morning workout and several sparring sessions with his pupils, Morion sought out Coridan and they talked over a light lunch. The herald said, “The note BlueSword left named a time and place for the duel. ‘MeredsDay of LastSummer’ is what it said. What might MeredsDay be, if you know?”

 

“Kyle’s people have many gods and they name each day of a month by one or another of them. MeredsDay is the 15th or 16th day of the month, depending on the month. LastSummer is next month by their reconning. Not much time – just a little over two weeks. Where?”

 

“The east end of the lake that holds his island. He wants you to come alone. Don’t.” Coridan’s face was sincere, and even a little apprehensive as he gave the teacher his advice.

 

“I’ll leave tomorrow. Two weeks leaves little leeway to travel so far, but Staarion is a fine horse. We’ll make it, and hopefully with enough time to rest up a little before the battle. I will go, and hope that his honor hasn’t been lost along with his sanity.”

 

“Fare well, Sir Morion. May all of Kyle’s gods smile on you, as well as all of Baranur.”

 

Morion just smiled as he went to talk to his two assistant teachers, to tell them of their impending responsibilities. Morion was a man who believed in himself and little beyond that. The gods had little or no place in the reality he perceived. Still, he was glad the young herald wished him well. He would need all the luck he could muster if there was more than Kyle behind the upcoming duel.

 

***

 

Nine days of perfect riding weather ended in a thunderstorm so fierce that it forced Morion off the road. Huddling in a makeshift camp under some trees, using Staarion for the little shelter the horse could provide, he spent the balance of the day, and all night, soaking wet and miserable.

 

The next day, he tried to ride on through the still hard rain. But just before noon another heavy thunderstorm forced him into camp again. Morion began to worry about having lost two days so far. He fervently hoped that the morrow would be drier.

 

It was, but not by much. The rain still fell, hard and fast, but the violence of the thunderstorm had passed. It was not traveling weather, but Morion had no choice. The rain would slow him down to less than half his normal speed, and that wasn’t enough time to make it to the lake. Morion mounted Staarion and, pushing the animal to the limits of safe movement, rode off trough a grey-walled world of chill wetness.

 

Around mid-morning Morion suddenly had company in his wet and short-horizoned world. The strange horse and rider loomed up out of the hissing raindrops to his left and stopped athwart the road, halting Morion’s slow progress.

 

The horse was larger and so captured his attention first. Once it did, he stopped calling it a horse. There was something distinctly goatish about the mount – the cloven hooves, the tufted tail, the ears, and the little growth of hair under its chin that gave a name to the way some men wore their beards. It was easily as large as a horse, with the glossy fine hide of a horse as well. And then, Morion saw the flickering of a white, horn-shaped flame that hovered over the beast’s forehead. Unicorn.

 

Immediatly, the fighter’s attention was drawn to the rider. She sat tall in her saddle, back stiff and straight. Her face was turned toward Morion, appraising him as he examined her. She had long hair that seemed in the uncertain light to be pale blue, bound back by a thin copper wire around her head that bore a small, dangling ornament at each temple. Her face was long and thin, much like the rest of her, and her eyes were the strangest color. Red, not like the washed-out pink of an albino, but a deep, fiery red, like a fine ruby. Her nose was long, her mouth small and almost lipless. Her long throat was hidden by a thin, silklike scarf that matched the rest of her clothing. She rested her hands on the high cantle of her saddle; there didn’t seem to be any halter or reins on the unicorn. Her long, slim legs came out from under her skirts and went into soft high leather boots, which rested in large stirrups. A flowing cape attached to her tunic by copper buttons reached down her back and across her mount’s whithers. And, most amazingly, she seemed totally dry.

 

She opened her mouth to speak and strange, music-like sounds came out. But, the song of her words did not fit the movements of her small mouth. When the song reached his ears, words he could understand popped up in his mind.

 

The words in his head said, “The Dance of Ahar’yKinel enters its second mode. Thyerin’s webs have drawn you into your proper place in the pattern of the Dance, which will end with the freeing of a spirit too long held captive, and the end of an evil that could unmake this world.”

 

With the words came an understanding of their meaning, so that Morion ‘knew’ that Thyerin the Weaver was a god from a pantheon he had never heard of. Apparently, he had been drawn into some kind of scheme by this Thyerin, a plan that the god and this woman named a Dance. As the woman spoke/sang, the magic of her words enabled Morion to almost see the pattern she mentioned the way she saw it, like a half-finished piece of cloth on a loom, with part of its pattern finished and showing, but the rest of it hidden in the strands that would go into its making.

 

However beautiful the imagery, Morion resented the implication that he was subject to the whim of an idea some people called a god. Also, he was being delayed even further in his mission by this woman, and he had no idea why she had stopped him. He said, “My good Lady, while I would at some other time love to discuss this fantasy of yours, I am late for an important meeting and have no time to waste on mythical gods and the many ways stories are told about their intervention in mortals’ lives. If you would pardon me?” He put his heels to Staarion to ease his mount forward, but his horse refused to budge.

 

“Your belief in Thyerin does not affect his reality. Everyone believes in something, even you, Sir Morion. The code of honor you serve is as much a god to you as Thyerin is to those who follow him under that, or any of his many other names. Even believing in nothing is believing in something.

 

“I am named Kimmentari, and I know of your appointment. It is part of the Dance, the meeting between you and Kyle BlueSword. I have come to tell you three things. First, Kyle and his raiders will attack the village of Belliern, which is just over a day away if you shift your path to the east from here. Your King has been informed of this by another agent and has sent two companies of the Army to meet you there. If you meet Kyle there, and defeat him, the King’s soldiers will take care of the rest of his outlaws. If you wait until the time and place that he has chosen, then there is no place in the pattern for your victory.

 

“Still, wherever you choose to meet BlueSword, beware. He is not the man you knew. Do not take for granted the skill you believe him to possess. Also, you must kill him. The path that he has taken he cannot be delivered from except in death. Do not let your former friendship blind you to what must be done.

 

“And, lastly, when he is dead, remove from his left wrist the bracer he wears and place it upon your own left wrist. For a short time thereafter, you will be able to enter his citadel as he did through a dimensional lens. Once within, you must find a silver-bound crystal circlet that he had made for himself. It is unfortunate that he never had a chance to use it, but it has a further purpose. When you have the circlet, you must take it to Dargon and deliver it unto one of your former pupils, the one named Je’lanthra’en. She, too, has a part in this Dance and the circlet will be of immeasurable aid to her.

 

“Once that is accomplished, your part in the Dance will be over, and you can go back to your ways of not believing. From here, the choice is yours. If you do not go to Belliern…that, too, is in the pattern, and we will have to get someone else to play your part. Farewell, Lord Sir Morion. I shall see you again. Until then…” And she rode swiftly back into the greyness and vanished.

 

Morion stared after the strange woman for quite some time. He couldn’t quite believe the matter-of-fact way she had dictated the next couple of days of his life to him, giving him the option to reject her counsel but expecting him to follow it. Long after she was gone, he still sat and thought, already so wet that he could sit in the rain for days and not get wetter. Finally he decided to heed her advice. More for practical reasons than anything else. He suspected that Kyle would have something devious planned for their proposed meeting on the shore of his lake. Even if he didn’t, and Morion succeeded in killing him, there would still be his outlaws to contend with. If Kyle were truly going to attack Belliern, then meeting him there with the King’s men would be the smartest move he could make.

 

He urged Staarion into motion again, and rode on thoughtfully through the driving rain.

 

***

 

Morion propped himself comfortably against the lip of Belliern’s public well and looked around. The village was deserted and had been since the King’s men had arrived to tell them of BlueSword’s coming attack. Not a single resident of the village had elected to stay. The infamy of BlueSword had spread swiftly, and no one wanted to challenge it.

 

The village square, which should have been the busiest spot in Belliern, was lifeless except for Morion and a few hidden sentries. The shops that faced the square were closed and shuttered. The four main spokelike streets were empty, as were the alleys that poked between shops around the perimeter of the square. The day was overcast, grey and cool for the end of summer. A gentle wind stirred the dust on the ground and the sparse brown and green grass scattered about the square. There were very few natural noises to break the unnatural stillness of the village.

 

The two companies of the King’s army were hidden in strategic places around the village waiting for the attack that would occur sometime that day according to Commander Rian’s information. Sentries were posted to carry information on Kyle’s coming to the ready soldiers. The waiting was the hardest part for them, of course. Even after two days of good sleep and fair food at the village’s largest inn, waiting in hiding for an uncertain attack was wearing on the nerves and body. They were at the mercy of Kyle whom, if this day went right, they would never have to worry about again.

 

Morion sighed, and settled himself a little more comfortably on the well’s wide edge. He had resigned himself to this combat over the days since he had diverted to Belliern. He had answered or pushed away any hesitations and questions in his mind about whether this was the right thing to do. As he drew his sword and settled it across his knees, he thought about his reluctance to kill. He picked up the whetstone and soft cloth lying beside him and began to hone the blade that had been his livelihood for many years. He had done his share of killing, both in the service of the King and on his own later when he became a mercenary. And somewhere in that time, he had become tired of killing. So often there had been no wrong or right in the battles he had fought, just a desire for land, property, or blood, and a sum of money to buy swords to fulfil that desire. It had eventually become more than he was willing to deal with, and he had packed away his blade forever. But, the inactivity was almost as bad as the killing, so he had opened his school, trying to instill in his students more than just the ability to destroy. As part of his philosophy of ‘restrained violence,’ he tried to teach when it was right to fight. He had finally convinced himself that this was such a time and that he wasn’t engaging in this duel for himself. Kyle was destroying whole communities and killing innocent, defenseless people. Someone had to stop him, for the innocents’ sake at least. Kyle had issued the challenge, and Kyle would have to face the consequences.

 

Polishing and sharpening his sword calmed Morion. His world narrowed to that blade and the coming fight. The simple activity pushed moralizing out of his mind and got him ready to fight, made his body and mind one. Soon, he was again the fighting machine of his sellsword days and ready to duel Kyle BlueSword.

 

Shortly after noon, Morion felt a tingle, faint and subtle, move like a wave across the square. He looked up, putting his polishing materials down, and turned his gaze to the east-facing main road of Belliern. He saw a thin grey line draw itself from the ground up to ten feet in the air. It broadened into a thin, pointed-ended oval which hovered for a moment and then twisted strangely, eye-wrenchingly, like a lens of glass seen first edgewise then turned broadside to vision. It twisted until it was a large grey circle that filled the near end of the street. With a shiver and a ripple, it flashed a bright silver, mirrorlike but reflecting nothing.

 

After another ripple brushed across the its surface, Morion saw a shape begin to bulge out of the lower portion of it. It looked like a man walking through a sheet hung on a line to dry. The surface of the mirror stretched around the advancing form, then, silently broke away from it to reveal a man dressed in fancy, fluted blue plate armor with a lightning bolt on the breastplate that shone like real gold. He wore no helm unlike his men who were armored in ganbezons of leather. They were popping out of the mirror behind their leader and forming into ragged ranks around him.

 

Even though the leader’s head and face were uncovered, Morion had some difficulty identifying Kyle. If not for the sword he held naked in his right hand, Morion could not have been certain at all. Kyle’s face was darker, coarser, with a scraggly beard that altered the planes of his face. There was something subtly twisted about the face; something that made Morion think that perhaps Kyle had been driven insane. And, the man’s eyes glowed with a pale green light plainly visible in the muted daylight. Only the sword assured him that the leader was Kyle – it was the heirloom that Kyle was so proud of.

 

***

 

Kyle BlueSword stepped through the dimensional lens into his latest target, Belliern. Kyle immediatly noticed that the village square was deserted but for one. He recognized the black armor and the stylised gryphon on the breastplate. He recognized the black helm with the silver decoration around the eye-slits that the man was lifting from the edge of the village’s well and settling on his head. Lord Sir Morion of Pentamorlo, his former teacher.

 

He laughed, and said, “Ah, Teacher! You want to duel now? Fine, just fine! Men, you know your jobs. Get to it while I take care of this fool. I’ll join you in a minute or two. Hah hah!” He waited a moment to watch his outlaws slipping away in twos and threes down the lanes of the village, destruction and mayhem on their minds. After setting the lens to vanish, he walked to the square to meet Morion. Kyle was as confident of victory as he sounded even without the little surprises he had set up for the pre-planned duel.

 

***

 

Morion walked calmly to a position midway between the well and the now vanishing mirror, ignoring Kyle’s bluster. He watched the outlaws moving away into the village. He hoped that the sentries had alerted the soldiers. However, that was in the hands of Commander Rian. He had a duel to fight. He located a level patch of dirt and planted his feet firmly, shifting them slightly until he felt the feedback of solidity that made him almost part of the ground. It was a part of his favorite and best technique, the Rooted Form, a fighting style that made the fighter immobile, rooted to the ground; a rock in the face of his opponents. Morion lifted his blade in a loose two-handed guard and waited, ready for anything.

 

Kyle strolled toward Morion, sword held loosely, point down, in one hand. But, barely ten paces from his former teacher, Kyle blurred into action faster than an eye could track. In an instant he brought his sword up into a guarded attack position and began to run at Morion, full speed from the first step.

 

He moved much faster than Morion thought possible. It was all he could do to wrench himself from his rooted stance, move his sword between himself and Kyle’s blade, and dodge as Kyle barreled through the space where Morion had been standing. Morion whirled around, shuffled his feet until he found the feedback of the proper stance and faced Kyle again. He was more prepared this time for the rush that Kyle was already mounting. Part of the Rooted Form involved stopping and engaging an opponent to keep him from darting in and out and around one. With a skill that almost surprised Morion himself, he leaned into Kyle’s attack, feeling the strength of his stance pour up his legs and into his body. With a darting sword and a braced body, he let Kyle crash into him. Morion watched as the speeding man simply bounced off of the front that he put up, the inertia of Kyle’s rush absorbed and syphoned off.

 

Kyle recovered with the same lightning swiftness that he had charged with, and soon Morion was encased in a web of flashing blue light from the multitude of blows that rained down at him from Kyle’s impossibly fast arm. It took all of his skill to keep himself from being wounded. Morion had done his best to eliminate any prejudging of this contest by what he knew of Kyle’s skill and ability because of what the strange woman Kimmentari had said. Now he had to rethink his moves in terms of this incredible speed. He gradually came to realize that he could not possibly defeat Kyle if he stayed in one place. He knew that it was just a matter of time until his reflexes didn’t respond fast enough to block one of Kyle’s blows. The speed of BlueSword’s attack left him no time to riposte.

 

The smile on Kyle’s face told Morion that the outlaw had him right where he wanted him, almost as if he had expected Morion to use the Rooted Form and knew that it was futile. Morion decided to use a change in tactics to surprise Kyle to perhaps gain an advantage.

 

He gradually eased his feet free, surprised by the increased difficulty he now had blocking Kyle. He hid any differences from his opponent, making it seem that he intended to stay Rooted until he was killed. He gathered his resources into himself, storing them up until he felt he could manage a fast burst of action, blocking with more and more economy he hoped would seem to Kyle like weariness.

 

Finally ready, Morion sped into action. Judging his moment to the half-second, he dodged to the left under an almost-patterned blow. In the slight hesitation Kyle made when his blade didn’t meet the expected resistance, Morion was able to bring his blade around and under Kyle’s defence. He swung with all of the force in his body and connected with the armor under Kyle’s right arm and dented it enough to at least bruise if not break some ribs. Continuing the motion smoothly, Morion slipped out of range and took up a light, shifting stance, ready to move, dodge, run, or whatever else was necessary to defeat BlueSword.

 

Something was wrong. Kyle wasn’t charging after Morion. He stood and turned just enough to look at his former teacher. Morion noticed that the swarthy look and the glowing eyes were gone, as if a mask had lifted, leaving a very bewildered, weary and recognizable Kyle.

 

Kyle took a hesitant step toward Morion, and said, “H-help m…” The return of the mask cut off his plea, and once again Kyle was the dark-skinned, evil-eyed man who had walked through the mirror. “Good try, teacher,” he said. “First blood to you. I didn’t think you smart enough to leave your stance even when it was killing you. But, you still have no chance of victory. I shall not be caught off guard, and I am better than you! Diiiieeeeee!!” He charged with the same speed as the first time, not even slightly slower. It was as though the minutes of fighting hadn’t tired Kyle in the least.

 

Although feeling the fatigue that Kyle was not, Morion was more ready this time than before. He spun and swung with Kyle’s rush, moving with the midnight-blue armored man so that he didn’t have the time to turn and run again before Morion’s sword was there to be blocked. Kyle attacked in a flurry of blows that Morion blocked. Now that he wasn’t hemmed in by his useless stance, Morion recognized that there was more speed than skill in Kyle’s attack. There was also a fatal tendency to attack in a pattern. As he and Kyle fought back and forth across the village square, Morion grew more and more certain that, given half a chance and enough time to discern the pattern in Kyle’s attack, he could win.

 

Neither dueler noticed when the fighting in the rest of the village reached the square. The King’s men had reacted swiftly to the advent of the outlaws, ambushing and slaughtering the small groups as they searched the village for something to kill. Of the original two and a half score only ten survived the initial attacks. With the advantage of more experience in guerilla tactics than the soldiers, the outlaws, though few in numbers, managed to take a high toll on the King’s men as they slipped through the alleys and houses of the village. Finally the outlaws were driven into the square itself by the numbers of King’s men alone. There, one by one, they fought and died, outnumbered but not surrendering.

 

Morion finally got his chance. He backed Kyle up against the well with a flurry of hacking blows that seemed wild but were not. Using every trick he knew to keep Kyle from breaking away from him, he studied Kyle’s pattern, even going so far as to take a hit or two to judge the man’s reaction. When he was sure, he made his final play.

 

He attacked, and Kyle followed up as predicted. Another half-dozen blows, all as planned. One more, two, three, and – as Kyle’s blade came up from terce in a backhand return, Morion moved. His blade went down, forcing BlueSword’s to slide up and out. His blade came up from the same place and angle that his opponent’s had. It caught the man in now-dusty blue just under the lower edge of his breastplate, cutting deeply. He recovered the blade quickly, and, while Kyle was staggered with the first blow, he swung with all his might, leaving himself dangerously open, and struck home deep into Kyle’s left side, his blade piercing the armor and sinking deep into Kyle’s chest.

 

Kyle’s face twisted even more as he grimaced in pain. For a few moments, there was nothing left of Kyle’s features, but rather something out of a nightmare. Fangs, horns, pointed ears, excessive hair, no eyes but rather twin orbs of flickering green light nestled under its brows; the green light that had shone through Kyle’s eyes. In a voice that was deep and gravelly, and very loud, the thing said, “You have won, mortal. But, I never forget. You will not be so lucky next time. My time is limited on this plane now, but I shall have my revenge. Beware, Sir Morion. Beware!” And, the alien features faded leaving the now pale but familiar features of Kyle.

 

Kyle’s body sagged, knees buckling, sword falling from nerveless fingers. Morion released his own blade, still wedged in Kyle’s chest, and the body dropped lower until he was sitting propped against the rim of the well. Morion dropped into a crouch beside Kyle, bewildered by what had driven Kyle to this pass, and saddened by his friend and pupil’s imminent death. He briefly wondered if Kyle could be saved, but from the amount of blood that was pooling on the ground below him from the two wounds he had received, Morion knew that Kyle was as good as dead.

 

Kyle’s eyes fluttered open, and their grey-brown irises locked on Morion. Weakly, he said, “M-Morion. Th-thank you. Really, thank you. Y-you have released me. Th-thank y-y-y…” He slumped down, eyes shutting again, not yet dead but not strong enough to speak. Morion knelt beside him, wondering whether or not to help his friend to a swifter end.

 

Then, the woman with the pale blue hair and ruby eyes was beside him. Kimmentari touched Kyle’s forehead lightly, and he seemed to receive a jolt of energy from her fingers. As his eyes opened, she said in her music-voice, “Kyle, explain.”

 

“E-ex-x-plain?” quavered Kyle.

 

Kimmentari’s fingers pressed more firmly on Kyle’s brow, and Morion thought he saw their tips glow faintly blue for a moment. In response, Kyle’s eyes regained some of their normal glitter, and he drew himself up a little, ignoring the shaft of steel in his chest. The strange woman said again, “Explain, Kyle. Discharge your duty, and then go to a peaceful rest. Tell Sir Morion your tale.”

 

“My tale.” Kyle looked almost healthy, the color back in his face. No more blood dripped from beneath his breastplate, but Morion wasn’t sure if this was because his wounds had been staunched, or because he had no more blood in him. “My tale,” Kyle repeated.

 

“I came to Pentamorlo School not…”

 

***

 

I came to Pentamorlo School not knowing exactly what I was going to do with the training I might receive. My father had died four years before, and my mother remarried into a family I didn’t care much for. I dearly wanted to be able to use the sword that was my only heritage, so I sold everything I could and went to study under Sir Morion.

 

One day, while I was visiting Tench, about a year after I joined the school, I met a man named Mygrul. I liked him the first time I saw him. There was a kind of energy, a happiness in everything he did that drew me to him. We talked, bought each other drinks, talked and drank more, and decided that we were buddies and planned to see each other again. He was a mercenary who mostly hired out as travelers’ guard, so he knew when he would be in town again.

 

There was much in Mygrul that made me want to be like him. He was good with the sword, learned mostly by a five year stint in the King’s service. He had managed to keep his sense of humor by taking easy but lucrative jobs, ones that didn’t involve a lot of unnecessary killing. When we had gotten to know each other better and had become friends, he offered to team up with me when I got out of school. His reputation was such that he had the pick of guard positions, and with me as part of the team, he could get even better pay for both of us. I readily agreed. It was perfect, exactly what I was hoping for.

 

When I graduated, I went to Tench to wait for him. A few days later, the caravan he was escorting arrived. With a few words to the master of the caravan, I was hired on the spot, and Mygrul and I began our partnership.

 

That first caravan was uneventful, but during the second one we hired out with, the train was attacked twice. Mygrul and I, with the help of the sling-armed drivers, drove off nearly a score of half-organized raiders. When we reached our destination, Mygrul and I got drunk in celebration of our victory. He made some comments about us being a perfect team. That got me thinking. Still a little tipsy, I suggested we swear ourselves blood-brothers, knife-kin by the custom of my people. He agreed, and we swore the never-parting oath and sealed it with blood. Then, we went back to the taproom and got drunk again.

 

My life was perfect after that. I had a brother, something I had always wished for. I had a job that I loved, a purpose in life. There wasn’t anything I lacked, not even women – our gold and reputations gave us free run of the red-lantern district in every city we visited. Until four months ago.

 

Mygrul and I had just escorted a caravan from Baranur to Easryun. As soon as we arrived, we had offers for a return trip from a dozen merchants. But we wanted to rest, so we rented rooms in the best inn in the city, paying a week in advance, and went out to explore the city.

 

We were walking down one of the streets that opened off the upper marketplace. Here the more prosperous merchants had shops that had stood almost since the walls of the city were built. We stopped by a trinket shop and were looking at the wealth in the window, arguing about whether the jewelry was real or not, when we were challenged by a quartet of young toughs with more steel than sense, and more ale in them than both. They were well dressed, not part of the underside of the city but probably merchants’ or nobles’ sons out looking for trouble.

 

They taunted us, trying to goad us into a fight. Mygrul refused to even draw steel, and kept me from drawing, too. He tried to reason with them, and finally even offered them gold to leave. They were intent on their evening’s fun. They edged closer and closer until one, probably the leader, lunged forward almost awkwardly and skewered Mygrul low in the chest.

 

I cleared my blade a second later, and attacked. I didn’t reach Mygrul’s killer because the other three were crowding me. With more fury than skill, I disarmed one, knocked another out of line, and disabled the last by nearly cutting his sword arm off. When they realized that they were up against someone more skilled than themselves, they backed away cautiously, and when I didn’t keep pace with them they turned and ran.

 

I went to Mygrul, who was coughing weakly, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. I tried to help, but the wound was too deep. I thought of a healer, but I had never been in Easryun and had no idea where I might find one. As I was ready to go for help in the market, Mygrul said, “Ah, what a fool. Never trust bared steel. What a way to d….” And he was dead.

 

Rage burned through me, rage and anger at those hotheaded fools that had killed my best friend and brother, a lesser anger at Mygrul for letting them kill him, for not wanting to fight. Vengeance was what I needed, what I owed to Mygrul. It was my duty, what I had to do. The oath we had sworn saw to that, as well as the nagging thought that I should have protected him, even from his own folly.

 

A glow caught my eye as I thought those things. I looked up and saw that one of the displays in the window was glowing. A polished quartz egg sitting on a blackwood stand was giving off a bright, pearly light. As I looked at it, I felt a pulling in my head, a feeling that if I touched the egg, if I took it, I would be able to get my revenge. The feeling pulled at me, feeding the rage and hatred inside of me, showing me images of the dead and tortured bodies of those Shuul-damned kids. It urged me to break the window and take the egg. I tried to resist, but not for very long. The images, the promises were too good to let go. I stood and shattered the window with the hilt of my sword. I reached in and took the egg.

 

I stared into the depths of the egg as a voice said, “Pact. Freedom for vengeance. Accept?” I didn’t even need to say yes. When it voiced the question, it gleaned the answer from my immediate reaction, which was acceptance. With a flare of light that startled me into dropping the egg, the creator of the voice flowed into my arm, and then into my entire body. I watched distantly as the egg shattered as if it was made of shell and not stone. When it did, the thing in me laughed. It told me that my last hope had been that egg and that now it would live in me forever.

 

That in me which was myself was pushed into a small corner of my mind, able to see what the invader did with my body but unable to do anything about it. I watched while the murderers of Mygrul were hunted down and killed. I watched while the invader searched out magic that was hidden in secret vaults. I watched as the outlaws were gathered and as a citadel was built on an island in the center of a lake. And I watched as the invader murdered and destroyed in my name and finally challenged you; and, at the last, fought and lost to you, Morion. Thank you again, and farewell.

 

Kyle sighed peacefully and died without pain, his body and soul at rest. Morion turned to the blue haired woman who was sitting on her knees a little back from the pair. As his eyes fell on her, she said, “You needed to know. As a lesson. Do not let your honor or your sworn word overwhelm your sense of right. I know that you try not to, but I know that your honor is your life to you. Do not let it be your death.

 

“One more meeting is given to us by Thyerin in this Dance. Beyond that I cannot see, but I could wish for further contact. Beware the citadel of BlueSword, Sir Morion. All is not as it seems. Remember your friend’s story and go warily. The circlet must get to Je’lanthra’en by DorthsDay in Harvest to be of use to her. Farewell.” She lifted Kyle’s sword gingerly by the hilt, took a step, and vanished.

 

Morion stared after the woman wondering at her words yet again. In his own terms, DorthsDay was the last day of Ober and over a month away. More than enough time to get to the citadel, and then to Dargon. He looked around the square and saw that the battle with the outlaws was over. The King’s men gathered in the square to report to their captains on their individual fights. No one was looking his way, probably, he thought, part of Kimmentari’s work.

 

He looked down at Kyle appearing asleep rather than dead. Kyle’s tale had been strange, and he wondered briefly if all of this, from Kyle coming to his school to this moment, had been arranged so that a crystal circlet could be given to another former pupil of his. Briefly, his temper flared at the thought of callous so-called gods meddling deviously and catastrophically in mortals’ lives. But that anger caused him to abandon the thought as useless and dangerous. He would never know, nor truly want to, just how much immortals dabbled in his life and those around him.

 

Morion took hold of Kyle’s arm and saw the bracer there. With some difficulty he unlatched it, and slid it off. It was plain steel except for a little sigil near the cuff that looked like a grey lens. He closed it about his own left wrist and wondered how Kyle had used it to control the mirror. However, just thinking that made the little sigil light up, and he watched as the mirror opened up in the street as it had before.

 

Now, the soldiers noticed him, the dead BlueSword and the travel mirror. Commander Rian was striding over to him, but Morion didn’t feel like talking to the man. With the last of his tasks in mind, he walked over to the mirror and stepped in.

 

It was strange walking inside the mirror, like traveling through a mountain pass blanketed in heavy fog. He took two steps that seemed to stretch for days, and then he was out of the greyness and standing in a courtyard.

 

He looked around and saw the mirror vanishing. The courtyard, castle on one side, protective wall on the other, was deserted. Cautiously, Morion climbed the set of stairs that let to the top of the wall and he saw, peeking between two merlins, the vast lake that protected the citadel of BlueSword far more effectively than the wall he stood upon.

 

As Morion cautiously explored the castle and out buildings, he found the whole complex was as deserted as the front courtyard. There were signs of occupancy – the outlaws were not very neat housekeepers – but they left no one behind when they went on a raid. Morion wondered briefly whether there were servants chained away somewhere, but he found none.

 

When Morion was sure that he was alone in the citadel, he began searching for the circlet. Remembering that Kimmentari had mentioned a time limit of sorts on his use of the mirror at their first meeting, he decided to be as methodical as possible in his search, to be sure that he looked everywhere in as little time as possible. He went through the cellars, where there was much treasure but no circlet. He pried into every nook and cranny from the first floor up, searching for secret panels and hidden rooms, anywhere that valuable items might be hidden. He looked behind curtains and arrases, under furniture and around shelves, even under the rugs. Finally, on the top floor, in what had to have been Kyle’s room, Morion found a panel behind the bed’s headboard. In the small opening it revealed was the circlet, a thing of simple beauty, resting on deep blue velvet. Also in the cubbyhole was a smaller square of black velvet, on which rested a small, reddish stone.

 

Morion reverently lifted the circlet and examined the pure craftsmanship in it. He lifted the blue velvet out and wrapped the circlet in it, then set it aside for a moment. He picked the red stone up off of its rest and held it cupped in his palm. In the same instant that he realized it was egg-shaped, he felt needles spring into his palm. The pricks weren’t very painful at first, but fire began to course through him from each needle tip, pain that raced faster and faster throughout his whole body. He tried to shake the red egg from his palm, but it seemed to be holding on as it pumped poison into him.

 

Morion fell on the bed, body rigid with escalating pain. He looked at the stone and could see the thing that had possessed Kyle standing in a cloudy, grey place. The being said, “Sir Morion. I said I’d get my revenge. You are dying, and with you dies the thread that circlet would have woven. My masters will be pleased with me, I think. Die slowly and in much pain, Sir Morion.” The being’s laughter faded with its body into the greyness. A convulsive twitch finally loosened the little egg from his palm, and it rolled onto the floor. The last thing he saw as blackness welled up behind his eyes was the blue-haired woman Kimmentari coming through the door and stepping casually on the egg, a look of dismay and concern on her face. She said something in her music-voice, but he couldn’t hear her through his pain. And then he knew no more.

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