The Black Swordsman
“You are clearly proud and lustful as well as an exceptional person. The world not only will bow before you, it should do so. Yet you don’t want that? Not only do you not want it, but you actively rail against it? I don’t understand. And even more than that, I don’t see how it’s possible.”
“I made a choice,” I said, as though that answered everything, because it did. “It’s that simple.” Time to change the subject. “So, shall we reveal you to the others now?”
At least, I started to say that. I was interrupted by the massive statue of Karzoug coming to life. Because of course it did. It looked right at me and spoke. “You again. I can’t help but be inspired by your optimism, but alas, you will not live to turn your weapon against the might of Xin-Shalast. Your fate is death, here in the Runeforge.” With that, the statue swung at me. I narrowly avoided being turned into paste, and only because I had quickly cast a spell to surround myself in mirror images while it was talking.
Paulie laughed. “GLORIOUS!” He quickly cast his own spell. With a great creak, the statue of Alaznist lurched to life, brandishing its massive ranseur.
“GIANT!” Lenn roared, charging the statue of Karzoug.
“Heh, heh, heh,” Lenntu chuckled and began firing. I’d have to teach him a more shotgun appropriate battle cry later.
“We will fight you, no matter what you send at us!” Aurora declared, dancing between the statue’s legs and slamming her blade into one of its calves.
“A pity,” Jack said. “Nothing interesting about the insides of a statue. Unless it’s got hidden compartments to store loot. Ooh. Let’s look for those! Hear me, greed lord? WE’RE GOING TO TAKE YOUR STUFF!”
That last one enraged Karzoug and he changed his focus, going after Jack instead of me. Jack used his chameleon skin to make himself harder to see, and thus, hit. I took advantage of the reprieve and tried hitting the statue with a spell, but nothing. It wasn’t resistance, it simply was immune. Great.
In the end, Paulie’s statue grappled Karzoug’s and our heavy hitters began beating the statue to death. Or whatever. It was weird.
Karzoug didn’t take it well. “This is not the last! Fine. Come then, heroes. Seek me atop Mhar Massif, if you value life so poorly. You should be honored to be the first fools executed under the banner of Shalast in ten thousand…” He didn’t finish, because Lenn smashed the statue’s head. I didn’t even get to make a ‘pwned’ joke.
In case you’re wondering, the statue didn’t have any secret compartments.
Once we were done, we filled in the remaining holes in the Rangers’ gear with some of the loot we’d gathered in the Runeforge. I gave the wizard, Ikki, one of the many spellbooks we’d found to replace the one he’d lost when he had been transformed into a fish. He would need to get a new spellbook of his own, eventually, but this would work for now.
I also handed him a magic satchel. “What’s this?”
“Useful scrolls. Inside is a handy guide for when to best use them.”
“I’m not expecting to get into a fight.”
I shrugged. “It’s best to expect it, but hope it doesn’t happen.”
“Fair enough. I’ll give it a read.”
“I’d skim it now, while we get you all some potions.”
“Not really,” I said with a smile. “But we did kill a dragon outside and one of the ancient stories suggested he had a mate, so better to be prepared before we leave. Again, not expecting anything, but you know, better safe than sorry.”
With that in mind, I made sure every one of my easy to access compartments on my armor had a steel phial with a useful potion in it and hung my last few grenades in easy reach off my belt. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the same basic preparations I did every single day. No way would anything happen.
I left Vigil instructions for while we were gone, then we opened the portal and stepped through, once more returning to the icy chamber. So far, so good. Then we heard a woman scream. “That came from one of the passages!” Aurora called out. “We should go help!” It was clear that her weapon was influencing her already strong protective tendencies.
We rushed off towards the sound of the scream. We only made it about halfway down the hall when my magic sight revealed the activation of a runic circle trap. “Yep,” I said softly, analyzing the trap in the second or two I had before the trap went off.
It was a very powerful, very complex trap. It would teleport the target – that would be me, only I could trigger it – back to the main chamber and block the tunnel we had gone down with a wall of iron. Then the entire cave system would become a dimensional anchor. For roughly an hour, no one in the cave could teleport.
Which means that I was the primary target. “I was wondering when you’d show up,” I said, all spitfire and bluster.
“Oh?” a voice answered. “Are you trying to say that you’ve been waiting for me?”
“Of course, Lyrie Akenja. It was only a matter of time before you came after me again. I have to ask though, why me in particular?”
“You killed my cat,” she said, her voice icy.
Had I? It was such a blur, but I focused a second. Huh. “Well, so I did. Look, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for that. But in my defense, it attacked me first. I’m sure I can claim self-defense in a court of law.”
“COURT?!” she screeched. “There is no court for you! I tried to kill that which you most loved, to show you how it felt. I even arranged to have her soul eaten by daemons, to really drive the point home. But you screwed it up. You took the trap for her. I don’t know how you managed to get away from the daemons I arranged, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll kill you here again, then I’m going to go finish off your friends so no one will bother reviving you.”
“Oh? You mean you aren’t planning on having Lucrecia kill them first to fill me with hopelessness?”
“Lucrecia?” she laughed. “That b#!#+ got what she deserved.” Interesting. “No. I’ve moved past that. I just want you dead and out of my life.” Good. It sounded like she hadn’t come with anything overwhelming for them with me split from the group. As long as she didn’t leave, they might have a chance.
As we had been speaking, I began casting buff spells. I had no way of being certain what she intended, but I knew what I would have done if setting a trap for a wizard. So I did my best to be prepared for that. I had been trained on how to fight other wizards, and it was all down to who had thought of everything and exploited their foe’s weaknesses best.
I also took time to assess what spells she had buffed herself with using my magic sight. The standard ones were there, but she was missing protection from targeted spells. Well, so was I. But that was on purpose. Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Lyrie struck first. “DIE!” she shouted before using magic to try to turn me to stone.
Luckily, my newly enchanted weapon – proof against the effects of harmful transmutations – acted as an interdiction of the spell on my behalf. “You’ll have to do better than that!” I crowed, casting the last buff spell I would need.
“DIE!” she screeched again, hitting me with a ray of disintegration.
Which was another transmutation spell. Either Karzoug hadn’t told her about the effects of these weapons, or she was foolishly wasting more powerful transmutations to break through the defenses than necessary. If it had been me, I’d have hammered in a number of weaker transmutations before finally going full bore. “HAHAHA!” I laughed, then unleashed my rebuttal: Prismatic Spray.
Seven beams of light, all the colors of the rainbow, streamed out from my hand, darting forward at random angles and spreading out in a cone of chaos before me. Two of the beams hit Lyrie. The first was yellow, which functions as a powerful jolt of electricity. The second was the indigo beam. That would have been the game ender, rendering her completely insane. But she managed to resist its effects.
Or she was already completely insane, thus it having no effect.
Smarting from the damage I had caused, she leapt back into the nearest tunnel and covered its entrance with a wall of force. And here I was, having used up both of my prepared disintegration spells for the day. “You think you’ve won? You think this was my main plan, to trade blows with you?”
“I was hoping, yeah,” I said. If I could just kill her, even at the cost of my own life, my friends could revive me later. But now she was beyond my reach. I was kicking myself for not having made a laser gun, which could have fired right through the force wall. I immediately cast a spell to surround myself in a random array of illusory duplicates.
“Nice try, but you’ll find my golem more than capable of tearing through your mirror images.” With that, I saw the illusory wall she had cast fade, revealing a massive construct of mithral. It looked… familiar, for some reason.
It was the perfect choice. For fighting a wizard, nothing was better than a golem. Their natural resistance to most magic rendered us reliant on indirect attacks or on buffing our party members. Alone, with no party, I was probably screwed.
But I could buy time. The walls were high, and a mithral golem would only be able to use its ability to transform into liquid metal – T-1000 style – to attack me for about a minute before it no longer could. So I hit it with a slowing spell – the only of its two magic vulnerabilities I had actually prepared – and dashed right up the wall.
Once I was up there, I realized why it looked familiar. “The Gleam Eyes?!” I said incredulously. Sometimes it seems like the world likes throwing references at me that I’ll recognize. This time was almost uncanny. The golem looked like a massive goat-man, almost a perfect replica of a monster from an anime. Lyrie had even crafted an immense falchion for it to wield.
As predicted, the creature turned into a giant blob of liquid metal and began whipping its substance at me, trying to injure me. But I was surrounded by mirror images and further magic made it even harder to determine where I was. Between that and Juiz’s ability to take blows for me, I was sure I could last.
I cast quickly, summoning a flying Bralani azata. I shoved a small bag from my belt into her hands. “The instructions are in the bag!” I shouted. “Get to cover!”
“You think a summoned creature can help you?” Lyrie shouted. “You’re just wasting time, hoping your friends will save you. You’re going to be sorely mistaken.”
Eighteen more seconds. I cast another buff. I took a direct hit and my armor took damage. “Your overconfidence is your weakness!”
“AND YOUR FAITH IN YOUR FRIENDS IS YOURS!” What. Did we really just do that?
Twelve seconds. I recast one of the shorter buffs. “If this ends with your second in command throwing you down a shaft, I’m out.”
“What?” No one understands me.
Six seconds. I recast my mirror image spell. “Don’t worry about it. It’s over your head. Hey, Lyrie.”
“That I would be vulnerable if you got me alone. I’m glad you thought that.” I conjured a wall of stone nearby, creating an area where the golem couldn’t go.
“You saying it’s untrue?”
Zero seconds. I used a spell to repair all damage to my armor and jumped down behind the wall, out of the golem’s reach now that it could no longer become liquid metal. “Oh, no. It’s true. If you got me alone, I would be extremely vulnerable to your golem. Especially if I was low on spells. Only problem is, I’m never alone.”
“What’s that supposed to…”
“The rock cried out, ‘No hiding place!’,” I said softly, giving the cue to the summoned Bralani. I heard her begin breaking gems in her hiding place behind a nearby pillar. “Sweet Mother, sweet Mother,” I chanted loud enough for Lyrie to hear. “Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.” I then cast the spell I had prepared for specially for Lyrie’s attack.
You see, I had known it was coming. Xalassia had this quill, you see. I had pretended to the others that it was simply a magic writing tool that would help me write down spells more quickly, so they let me have it. But that was wrong.
It was, in fact, an artifact known as a Revelation Quill. Once daily, one could use it to learn cryptic information about specific events in the future. And I had managed to discover Lyrie’s intentions to ambush us here.
So why not tell the others the truth about it? Lyrie is a wizard, and like me, she is capable of scrying to learn what others are doing. It is said that, to deceive your enemies, it is often necessary to first deceive your friends. So I had.
And I had been preparing for this day since the moment I was last revived. The sack I had given the Bralani, for instance? Four elemental gems. A wall of force wasn’t much use if something could glide through the surrounding rock to bypass it.
Kira laughed. “NOW THAT’S MORE LIKE IT!” As souls began trading places and my body changed to match, she spoke to me. “Hey, Kyle.”
“Have you ever wondered why it is that you wear black all the time, even though purple is your favorite color?”
“Not really. I just kinda feel naked if I’m not wearing black.”
“That’s because it’s my color,” Kira said. “The one who has kept you safe in numerous previous lives always wore black.”
Then that meant… oh wow. “I made the armor for you all along.”
“That’s not the only thing you made for me,” she said, drawing the two hilts from our belt. “LYRIE AKENJA!” she shouted. “I am Kira O’Halloran, Kyle’s twin. But that is not the only name I have been known by. I’ve had many names in my many lives, but in each of them, I was a warrior of skill, dressed in black and wielding a pair of blades forged by my twin.” She pressed the buttons on each of the swords and shards of black metal flew out, interlocking into long, slender blades. “So I will be your opponent. No longer do you face the wizard. Today, you face the Black Swordsman!”
The golem finally managed to break through the wall, giving Lyrie a moment to see Kira standing there. “So what, Kyle, you think you can change yourself and beat my golem with those ordinary steel swords?”
Kira snickered. “Ordinary steel? Is that what you think?” She was right about that. Those swords were not made of ordinary steel. “Hey, Kyle.”
“Thanks. You have no idea how good it feels to have Fairy Steel in my hands again.” Again? Why would she say…?
As the secondary soul, I was no longer as restricted by the bonds of flesh. My entire life flashed before my eyes. But it wasn’t my current life.
“Well done, Prince Cedwyn!” the king said. “So few can stand against me like this.”
“Please, your majesty, you flatter me. Besides, the credit does not belong to me. I’d never be able to last this long if I didn’t have swords capable of standing up to yours without breaking.”
“Truly, a marvel to be sure. Your sister is an amazing woman. Alas that I do not have a son so our two houses could become one.”
“A daughter would suffice just as well, Majesty,” I said. “I have a brother, after all, and he has not yet wed.”
“A fair point, Princess Rhoslyn. So tell me, how did you make these marvels? Sorcery?”
“Not at all, Majesty. I simply studied the techniques used to make the steel of Damascus and improved upon them using a few more difficult to find materials. If you truly understand the steel, you can make it do anything you want.”
A figure wandered out from the shadows of a nearby tree. “Apologies for my intrusion, Majesty, Highnesses, but we have at long last located the dragon’s den.”
“Excellent, Merlin,” the king said with a fierce hunger. “Prepare an expedition at once!”
“As you command, Majesty. While I am here, I would also like to extend an offer to our guests. Care to join me in hunting a dragon?”
“I was born for this,” Cedwyn said.
“You can count on me, Old Crow,” I agreed.
The wizard grinned. “Just as expected from the Fairy Blacksmith and Prince Mordred Silverdew. Come, let us be off!”
What. “You were MORDRED?!” I asked my sister.
“I never liked that name. It was more of a title, really. It meant ‘bravery’. Got it for the time I killed two dozen Saxons single handedly.”
“So, does that make me…?” I left the question hanging.
“No. That’s a very fictionalized version of mother. They left you out of the propaganda. They had to, or they might have had to explain how you burned down Camelot.”
Oh. That. Yeah. I guess burned wasn’t the right description. I kinda called down a meteor. Or six. Look, that’s a story for another time. “We have a fight to worry about.”
“Good point. The Black Swordsman is fighting The Gleam Eyes. Think you can provide a little music?”
Well, I had been wearing the telepathic interface. I focused my thoughts. “Juiz, can you hear me?”
“If I were to play music in my head, can you play it from the speakers?”
“Acknowledged. Shall I add in accompaniment from other instruments?”
“Do it.” I mentally manifested a violin and began playing.
“THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!” Kira roared as the sounds of Swordland began filling the room. She charged, and for a moment the golem, a construct with absolutely no emotions, looked afraid.
“Now you’re mine!” Lyrie shouted. But before she could do anything, a quartet of earth elementals popped out of the ground around her and began wailing away. They wouldn’t be enough to kill her, but they could keep her busy long enough.
In my time adventuring with my companions, I’ve been a first-hand witness to a number of people’s fighting styles. Aurora fights with finesse and determination. Lenn throws his all into a single perfect swing. Geo studies, waiting for the perfect opportunity. All three fight to protect others.
Kira fights because she loves fighting. No. You misunderstand. I don’t mean she loves fighting. I mean, she LOVES fighting. Like, that way. I could feel it, the sheer giddiness as she joined battle, swords in hand, for the first real fight of this lifetime. And she couldn’t be happier. She fought with such an abandon, every inch of her body responding as if it had its own brain.
Even without the buffs I had cast on our body, I’m not sure the golem would have had a chance at defeating her. Even the few blows that connected were glancing, at best. Most were deflected by her twin blades or simply dodged.
And she was laughing the whole time. “FASTER!” she roared. “YOU’RE TOO SLOW!” Fairy steel bit into mithral. Inch by inch, cut by cut, she dismembered the golem. Soon it fought her with no legs. Then an arm was gone.
Dodging its weak, unwieldy blows, she peeled open its torso like a gift-wrapped present, exposing its magical core. “Do it,” I told her.
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” she cackled, driving the crossed blades into the golem’s heart. It twitched, then stopped moving.
“I am impressed,” Lyrie said, bloody but alive after contending with the elementals. “But this ends now.”
“So it does,” I said, my voice projecting through the speaker. I gave Juiz a mental command to activate the radio. “Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered, weak and weary…”
A voice rang out over the radio. “Quoth the raven, Nevermore!”
I switched my playing to ‘Luminous Sword’. At the end of the other tunnel, Aurora was launched by the others, just like they’d launched Lenn earlier. She tore through the wall of iron like a football team through a team banner. Shards of iron exploded out like a shotgun blast, utterly shredding the wall of force.
Lyrie screamed incoherently and conjured a Hamatula – also known as Barbed Devils, the guards of infernal vaults of treasure and favored summons of powerful greedy summoners – between her and Aurora. Aurora engaged the devil and Kira dodged past it, at Lyrie. Our foe, panicking, conjured a wall of stone between her and us.
Then Lenn was there. And the wall didn’t have a chance. With the entire cave protected against teleportation, she had nowhere to go. I felt jubilant. Sure, I didn’t like the idea of killing someone unnecessarily, but this wasn’t unnecessary. So I stopped playing and began to sing.
“No hiding place down here!
No there’s no hiding place down here.
You know I went to the rock to hide my face,
But the rock cried out, ‘No hiding place!’
No there’s no hiding place down here.
You know the sinners gonna be running
At the knowledge of their fate.
They’re gonna run to the rocks in the mountains,
But their prayers will be too late!
You know they forgot about Jesus,
Not knowing that the end was nigh.
But they will be running, trying to find a hiding place
When it comes their time to die!
No hiding place on the mountain.
No hiding place in the waters.
No hiding place down here.
No hiding place!
I went to the rock to hide my face,
But the rock cried out, ‘No hiding place!’
There’s no hiding place down here.
You know, when the world catches on fire,
There’ll be no hiding place.
When the waters start boiling,
No hiding place!
No, there’s no hiding place down here!”
And thus it was that Lyrie Akenja, one of our most dangerous enemies, died, a victim of her own hubris. She thought that she had everything under control, only to learn that not to be the case. She took care of everything so that I could not escape her, but when the tables turned, it was she who could not escape.
A good lesson for the future, that. This work is dangerous, and often dirty. One must always be prepared for any eventuality, or when the time comes, you might find yourself running to the rock to hide your face and find that the rock has cried out 'no hiding place'.
And, of course, a good lesson for everyone: When you’re mad at someone for killing your cat, maybe a murderous vendetta isn’t the way to go. Call the cops. Or maybe take a crap on their patio. Run your lawnmower over their begonias. Key their car. Whatever, just keep it proportional and not insane.
I’m just sayin’.
Sorry this one took so long. It was a beast working out the varying rolls and everything with everyone. And my weird work schedule didn't help much.