Vol.3, Ch.3, P.4


“Time’s up, turtle! To the butcher’s block with you!!”

—Gkhakh! Khhaeen!

Bashing blades tolled through Arbel’s benighted air. Afore me was my frenzied foe, battering away at my guard. Constraining his every strike was neither doctrine nor discipline; no, his was the sword of instinct, the mind of a fencer fighting by feel. Such I gleaned as his blade barked and bellowed in from the blindest of angles, nigh-snaring me with each swing.

The violence was not solely physical, either, for much odyl trailed and buttressed the swordsman’s storm-like challenge. A violence that surely would’ve made minced meat out of me were it not for the sword of soot in my hands.

Impact after impact, shock after shock, the force of it all flew from the black blade down to my very bones.

“Who’s the bull here…!?” I thought aloud, clenching my teeth.

This swordsman—sheer strength was not his only forte, but also the imbuement of his weight into every cut. My very arms were taking a beating from merely fending off his fury.

Much of my own sword-mettle was moulded in the formal training of my greener days; to face a sword so foreign to that familiar logic was proving my undoing. His stances, his footwork—all ignored the norms. Ill-guessing his coming moves, I soon found myself answering his assault either overlate or under-steeled.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Even were I to scry an opening in the swordsman’s maelstrom, curtailing any capitalisation would be the halberd, sailing in from the side.

To wit:

“Off with ye!” cried the halberdier.

“Not today!” I shouted, striking aside the thrust and breaking away from any sweep that might’ve followed. But the escape afforded little respite.

“Come back ‘ere, Bush-mouse!”

Thundering in straightway was the swordsman—unwaning stamina, too, seemed a strength of his. Our song of swords resumed, in which course glinted the glee of battle in my foe’s fevered eyes. Mine glared gravely as I watched my opponent with all mustered composure. Dire though my plight was, I spied some hope, assuming my defence could endure. For in that moment, I knew at last the method to this swordsman’s madness—and how best to unmake it: this bear of a man was ever borne by the winds of his own wildness, swinging and swinging away with abandon, blind to any secret blade abiding his blunder.

True, his was a self-smithed style, but that ill-equated to uniqueness, for there were other styles alike to his; namely, those favouring the fatal strike to the exclusion of feints and rebuffs. Such practitioners wore themselves upon the blade, endowing every slash the whole of their might and momentum. This foe of mine was scarce different.

Perilous pressure was his game, a gambit to force his foes into guarding, to bear his brunt down upon their very bones and wholly root them in place. The snared opponent, then, is left with little to do but guard and guard, ever late on the answer and never solaced by a solution.

The weapon to pierce this impasse, then, was naught else but the blade of absolute resolve. Decided, I continued guarding, seeking the soonest sign of opportunity, a period not unharried by the halberdier as he stabbed and swept from the deadliest of angles and most dire of timings. Still, I could not break here. On and on, I awaited the wind of chance, all the while fending off and foiling sword and halberd alike.

“Bloody brussen, this weasel!” the halberdier hissed.

“Aach! Die ’ready!!” With that howling cry, the swordsman heaved his blade up to the high guard.

There it was.

The straight-down stroke—my patience paid off.

Aimed at my skull was the blurring sword, imbued with such might so as to split the skies themselves.

My answer: the exact same stroke.

The swordsman’s mien—“Kh!?”—flashed with surprise at my foolhardy hew. But too late: vertical versus vertical, our skyward swords arched, plunged, and clashed at the subtlest of angles. Two half-circles, meeting like scissor blades, but the soot-steel’s proved the mightier momentum as it bit the foe-sword’s central ridge.


Both weapons plunged further on down, but victorious in the contest, the svǫrtaskan struck the enemy metal against the cobblestones below like a hammer-beat upon an anvilled blade.

The “vieglance”—a technique secret and arcane amongst some schools of sword-thought. And risky besides; glad was I that this first field attempt succeeded.

“Ggwagh…!?” the swordsman grimaced. Though harrowed by the shock, his hands yet held fast to his hilt. Only, the higher half of the blade was lost, broken clean by the blacksword. A most expected outcome; the sheer weight of wolfsteel would’ve exacted no lesser toll.

From there, I began shifting to the low guard for the follow-up, but glimpsing this, the swordsman did not choose retreat.

No. He lunged forth, instead.


Low but unstanced, the soot-steel shot up in response, slicing an up-line on my foe’s cheek. Skin split open, blood spat out. But the swordsman ceased little as he drove his pate forth in a headbutt.

“Gugh!?” I reeled back, struck straight upon the side of my face. The swordsman, too, was no less shook as he shambled in place. Dazed, he dared an indignant scream.

“Daaamn yeeuuu!!”

My sentiments exactly. This bull of a man was proving a pain in the arse, but such was the naked nature of the battlefield. All prior practice amounted to mere preparation for this hard-learnt lesson. I had but to swallow the bitter medicine, to live and turn trial to true strength.

“Out th’way, Sigmund!” the halberdier hollered.

“Shut it an’ shog off, will ya!?” the swordsman spat back.

The duo seemed more scavengers scrambling for the same scraps than a well-tuned team. In practice, their play saw little beyond the swordsman handling the immediate fight, with the halberdier simply sniping away at easy openings. A tactic most serviceable, but hardly stellar. Had these two meshed any more tightly, I might’ve been pushing up daisies by now.

“Tch!” tutted the halberdier, before hastily relocating and launching a stab of his spearpoint. Disoriented though I was, I managed a deflection with the soot-steel before flying forth immediately unto his midst. “Uwofh!?” came his dismay.

Over the course of this combat had I scried his scheme. Not for the mired mêlée was the halberd made. It instead craved space and breath, away from crannies and corners that might catch it. For his part, the halberdier had lost his stride: angered at his nuisance of a partner, the axe-sweep was an option lost to him. The thrust, then, was his sole choice—and my chance.

Having closed in, I readied the sword of soot, holding it to the side in a single hand.

“Hn!!” The sight of it stirred a light in the halberdier’s eyes. And then, a smirk: he’d found my opening.

Opposite of his axe-blade was the talon-like barb, one he’d used not once this entire contest. No doubt to numb my mind to its existence and, at the ripest opportunity, punish my ignorance with it.

Thus I thought to hand him the opportunity myself. That barb-blade of his—it lost to the axe in lethality, for it wasn’t meant to lay down the cut. Instead, it served to snare and snag, exactly as it was doing now to the sword of soot.

At once, the halberdier flicked his wrists to reel in his catch, but before he could, I immediately answered, two-handing the black-hilt. Easy enough when anticipated; bringing its full weight to bear, I sent the soot-steel straight down—gkackk!—slamming the halberd hard against the cobblestones.

“Ungh!?” its wielder yelped, falling to the same folly as his mate’s. But unlike the latter, the halberd was wrenched from his hands.

My mark, now unarmed.

I lurched forth at once for the felling.




Through the paling the svǫrtaskan sliced, and there found the halberdier’s breast.

“Gwah…” he groaned grimly. “…Bloomin’ ‘ell!!”

But the man was yet a professional: at the last slice of a second had he retreated, leaving the soot-steel to taste but a shallow cut from his bosom.

“Oi, Ulrik!!” cried the swordsman.

“Sigmund”. “Ulrik”. Swordsman and halberdier. Their names I now knew.

“Ehgh… yer a dead man, you…!” Ulrik scowled at me, gripping his warm gash as blood dripped from his fingers. Tightening mine anew about the svǫrtaskan’s hilt, I headed back in for the kill.

But just as my first step stamped, so did the earth tremble—into my ears then rushed a great rumble of hoofbeats.


I halted—now galloping in right before Ulrik’s last rites were many horse riders, severing the space between myself and the wounded halberdier.

“Ulrik! Sigmund! Th’devils be floodin’ in from North-One!” hollered one of the horsemen—and a sellsword comrade, from the sound of him. “They mean t’flank us! Come—let’s quit this grave whilst we can!”

Lise and her braves were right near, then. Met with the bitter report, Ulrik and Sigmund both turned their stinging stares to me.

“…A stalemate,” Ulrik hissed as he hurried on up to horseback. “Thass all ye’ll savour from this!”

Sigmund followed suit, giving me one last glare before mounting a different steed. They weren’t wasting any time; a moment, and my two foes were whisked away, leaving me in the dust. And just like that, the herd of horsemen hasted away into Arbel’s bowels.

…A “stalemate”.

So reckoned Ulrik of our contest.

I stood there, silent and reckoning quite differently from the halberdier. Had we went on as we did, victory should’ve been mine, surely. But those men were of a particular lot. For them, life and death decided the score. And so long as they yet drew breath, ours remained a draw: not before one side was extinguished could this battle know its end. Such was what their fiery eyes told me.

“Commander!” called one of my braves, who, too, had been battling anear. “Have you taken wound!?”

“Just a scratch,” I answered.

Our gazes next trained to the receding sellswords, finding in their tow a rush of fleeing Fiefguardsmen. The nightly offence was a success; the Nafílim flag, too, should fly soon above this gate.

“Forgive us,” the brave said, turning to me. “Our aid was ill-lent.”

I shook my head. “Nay. To each soldier, his own duty. There’s naught to forgive.” Airing those words, my thoughts bent back to the battle. I was convinced anew: that duo’s was a strength mountains above the Fiefguard grunts. And as though to settle my suspicions, emblazoned upon the sellswords’ saddles were designs of crossed spears: the emblem of the Zaharte Cohort.

No cog in the machinations of war can wheel long without knowing so infamous a name. And the two I’d just fought: likely they were of the band’s upper echelons, if their comrades’ haste in awaying them served any sign. At their top, then, should be the Östberg siblings: two-fold spear-devouts renowned throughout the realm. And if the rumours were right, those twin spears fought in flawless unison—doubtless a more lethal threat than my prior opponents.

“More spiders to this web than I’d like…” I thought aloud, looking up to the night. There, the waning moon was beginning its ascent up the eastern reaches. Without knowing why, I then found myself fixed upon its pale brilliance.



Beneath benighted skies was a little girl, gazing up at the flame-felled townscape of Hensen. It was till not a day ago that she was sheltered in a settlement elsewhere, hid from the hungry eyes of marauding Men—but not from souls of solace: Hensenite soldiers, they were, who had come to deliver the last living vestiges of her village. Thus was she saved and whisked away to this fólkheimr.

But in her time with them, she saw the soldiers’ spirits grow pale with great unease, for it happened that on the same day, the winds of war had reached their own home of Hensen.

What she, her saviours, and her fellow refugees had found at the fólkheimr, however, were but the fading embers of that battle, with the Mennish invaders all slain or long fled. A section of the townscape was scorched to ruin, but that in itself was a miracle. Worse could have transpired: the whole of Hensen, sinking into seas of flame, its folk either felled or carted off in manacles.

Yet such did not come to pass. Indeed, though few were lost, none were snatched away. None at all.

Much relief this brought to the little girl. For whilst Hensen was spared, her own home was not. Oh, the horrors that had unfolded in its unmaking. Nightmares she wished dearly never to see again. Not here, not anywhere.

But now safe in the walls of Hensen, she began to look for a certain soul, who she was certain was come, as well. Yet wheresoever she searched, her efforts found no fruition. A kin of Man, of likeness unalike to the Nafílim folk—such was the soul’s semblance, sure to strike the eyes from amongst the crowds of Hensenites. But struck her eyes were not. No matter how far she wandered, no matter how long she looked.

She tried enquiring her saviours of the soul she sought, but to no avail. They knew naught and—regular rank-and-file that they were—knew neither that this very person had, in truth, dealt Hensen the dear hand of deliverance.

But when asked in return for the name of this person, the little girl could not answer.

For it was unknown to her.

A soul unforgettable, yet unnamed—the weight of that woe now sat more heavily on her heart than ever.

Up at the surrounding townscape she looked once more. Its burnt and blackened husk hid the fortunate fact that few folk were slain, yet bared most nakedly the brutality of the battle itself. Was he safe? Spared from the swords and spells of that battle? Within this fólkheimr that was, to him, a veritable fastness of foes? This, she wondered.

And as she did, thoughts of the worst scenarios welled up from within. A nightmare most morbid, a fancy most affrighting, an end most dark—just imagining them well-made her ready to claw away at her own bosom.

Oh, how she wished for his well-being.

For his living breath, for the mercy of the fates upon his hard-lived lot.

But to the little girl, tragedy was an ever-chasing chariot. She had grown weary of wishing, fearful of believing.

Yet he was different.

Never did he stop believing. Never did he surrender, nor deceive, nor damn himself to remorse. He was as a lodestar, showing her, teaching her that hope was not to be abandoned, that wishing yet had its worth.

Thus dearly did she wish to believe.

Dearly did she wish hers a heart yet fain for faith.

But always would the woeful shadows spring up from the depths of her bosom. To tear away at her. To torment her to all tiredness.

Were that her heart had strength enough to weather such wiles. This, she wistfully thought, and in so doing, she looked up to the soot-black sky.

Not yet did she know.

That to this moment still was he fighting.

Confronting the killing fray for a gentler future, for a promise made.

Up the waning moon went. Up and up through the eastern mirk, a slow, white star wheeling to the west. In the little girl’s eyes did such splendour show.

Would that he could see the same. What gladness, what joy would she know.

Such was her one wish upon that night.



Chapter 3 ─ End



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Comment (1)

  1. howardplaza2

    Thanks for the chapter.

    Mia is genuinely the nicest character in the entire series, and it shows.

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