Enderal:Tales of the Wanderer: The Blade Master
The Blade Master
“Blademaster” is how many call themselves, even though they barely know how to hold a sword the right way. Most amusing about this is that most of them stop being daring and big-mouthed as soon as one is close to finish them off. Then they beg and crave. For their lives. For mercy. Vow on Malphas and the world. A real blademaster does not beg. If he kneels down, then only, to receive the last, lethal swordstroke. There exist just a few of these unyielding warriors. This story spins around the fate of such a man, who I met on my journeys. A man, for whom nothing was more sweet that death itself.
“You must be kidding” I huffed disgruntled. “So much? For one loaf? Where are we here? In some Qyranian noble house of pleasure?”
“That is the price for strangers, no more, no less”, persisted the trader. “It brings you joy to squeeze people out for their last coin, doesn't it? Let me tell you something: This often falls back on one's own.” I handed the man the demanded sum and grabbed my bread. “Have a nice day, Mysir”, he said with a malicious smile on his face. “Burn in the sunfire” I grunted back.
The streets of the city were bustling. Around midday this was usually the case, it was the hour of the big deals for the traders and bargaining and haggling became competitions. I was only passing through, but had to replenish my supplies. — A week long walk until the Frostcliff Mountains was ahead of me. If you believe me or not, this trader had still offered me the best deal of all of them. The prices were currently at a horrendous level, especially for travellers. Yes, travellers were the preferred target if it was about leaving somebody flat. I sighed and took a look into my sachet. There was not much left.
Soon I would have to come up with a creative solution, if my luck would continue to mean such bad to me. Back then I was not as experienced, it was one of my first great travels across Enderal. There was a lot that I first had to learn on the hard and rough streets, a lot that my extensive training with the masters could not prepare me for. It is like with a child: You can give them a hand, but in the end it has to learn walking itself. Somehow the people were restless, I had observed, even without the use of my special eye and enhanced senses. It was in the air. If I had asked around more, I would have known earlier what was going on. So I just came to know now, when loud screaming resounded. I stretched myself over the crowd. A young fellow ran up the street.
“Today is the day! The time has come! The scoundrel is being dragged to the scaffold! Everybody come and see, the time has come, they string him up! Down at the market!” Simultaneously, loud bell-ringing echoed over the roofs of the city. The people turned their heads. Windows and doors were opened. Little by little nearly all of the citizens made their way towards the market square. Flustered whispering could be heard everywhere.
When the noisy squaller passed me by, I reached out and caught him. His legs swung forwards, I quickly prevented him from falling. “What's happening here?”, I asked bleak. He looked at me scared. My cowl must seem frightening. “Uh, Uh, th-the scoundrel, he is going to be hanged, Mysir”, stuttered the lad. “Who is this “scoundrel” supposed to be?” I demanded to know.
“The bleeding blade, the cutthroat who slaughtered three moons ago a dozen members of the Order.” I let him go. He threw suspicious looks at me while slowly moving on. I had not heard of a twelvefold murder in the area. And I had a good overview of all men, who would be capable of doing such an act of violence. There was obviously something wrong with this case. I made my way towards the market, to have a closer look into this affair.
A vast crowd of people had gathered on the square. The whole city was on its feet. In the middle of the square stuck out the pedestal with the three gallows, on them freshly bond ropes, like a sinister omen. I pushed myself through the mass of people further towards the front. It was not long before murmuring started around the the eastern side of the square. The source of noise shifted further and further until it reached the podest. Then I saw the troop. Five Keepers, armed to the teeth, carried a man within their middle. He had long, straggly hair, that hung before his face.His body seemed maltreated. They probably had kept him in the “Hole”, the most inhuman cell of the dungeon, not even wide enough to turn while laying. For this reason, even his last reserves of strength must have depleted. Ahead of the troop walked the executioner, wearing a black and red hood.
The captive was being led on the pedestal, on which a luxuriously dressed spokesman, with a brooch of the Order on his chest, had taken up position. They knocked the captive hard so that he fell on his knees. He looked all time to the ground, he did not make any move. This man was broken, he had accepted his fate. A stone flew out of the crowd and hit his head. He grunted, bared his teeth without looking up and shook off the throw as if nothing had happened. Blood trickled down under his hear. It dripped on the podest.
“This man!” the spokesman pointed his finger on the captive and spitted on the ground.“This man, whose name is not worth it to be even mentioned, killed twelve- I repeat- twelve of our best warriors, honourable and bravemen, in cold blood.” The crowd seethed. Shouts of defamation echoed over the square. “In the night of the twenty-seventh Fundament, he assaulted them during their innocent sleep. Half of them were dead before even awaking.” A dramatic pause of the spokesman followed. “The only acceptable punishment for this is death.” The crowd consented roaring.“But dear people. It would be presumptuous if that would be all of it. Before he dies, he has to suffer the same agonies as those, that he left behind by the wayside with their throats cut, this scabious bastard son of a fisher whore!”, screamed the speaker.“Bring the rack!” Two sturdy Keepers rolled the instrument of torture over the ramp on the pedestal. The captive did not show any reaction to what was lying ahead of him.
“He still has not confessed his murderous acts in the face of Malphas. Until this has not happened, this pathless will also not receive any mercy!”
Frenetic cries of joy accompanied the words of the speaker. The captive was grabbed and buckled to the rack. The straps were lashed up. The spokesman signaled the executioner with a nod to begin his work. Arms and legs of the captive strained, while the executioner turned the crank. Not one sound left his throat. He stayed completely calm. The speaker gave another sign and the executioner continued turning. The same procedure followed a few more times, but the captive kept a stony silence. Anxious mumblings started amongst the bystanders. The speaker got nervous and hastily whispered something to the executioner. I suspected that there was something amiss here. No normal man could ever endure such an agonizing, cruel torture, without showing any hint of pain. Apart from strong drugs or other medicines there existed only one technique that allowed to completely dismiss any such pain. The Iron Cloak, only used by the highest master level of the blademasters, the Tyrangalar, a very famous ancient federation, of which many legends tell stories.
“Release him”, the speaker said with a snarl. “We will chop off his fingers one after the other”. The captured blademaster was dragged to the decapitation block. He did not fight back, his limbs were flaccid. His spirit was in a different state of mind. One Keeper chucked the arm of the captive into the block. The executioner sharpened his mutilation knife, which was as long as his forearm. He put the stone aside, placed himself above the captive, reached back and stroke out. But the knife never reached its target. I felt the magic, energetic shock wave that blew across the square, not perceptible for common people. The Iron Cloak had been released. In the next moment, the captive rose upwards. The iron shackle burst, as if it was made from ailing wood. He reached for the wrist of the baffled executioner and broke it with a skilful hold. Then he took the knife and pressed it into the side of the executioner's throat. He died immediately.
The marketplace went into uproar. The people, in blazing fear, pushed away from the pedestal. On the contrary, I pushed towards the pedestal. The five Keepers of the Order drew their weapons. The speaker tried to make himself scare but he did not make it far. The blademaster pulled the knife out of the executioner's throat and hurled it. It hit the runaway exactly in the back of the head, leaving him slump to the ground, dead but still twitching for a little while longer. Two dead men within two blinks of the eye.
This man was a dead machine. You probably can imagine what he did to the Keepers. But I will not withhold the details from you. The first to approach him: a dynamic move upwards, a kick in the privates, an uppercut under the jaw, simultaneously the knife from upside down into the unprotected neck. Dead. Now the blademaster found himself in possession of his favorite weapon.
The second warrior of the Order: a severed arm, then a stroke through his heart. Preceded was all that by various matchless feints. The blademaster dodged with a somersault under a blow, while cutting into the knee pit of the third attacker, using his sword to nail the attacker's foot into the pedestal. When the fourth enemy approached, the blademaster gave him a deafening hit onto both ears, took away his weapon, used it to kill the third one, drew the blade out of his foot and ran it into the fourth's throat. Double score for death. The fifth Keeper had already made a quick getaway, like everyone who was reasonably in his right senses. The torture and the time in the cell could not harm the blademaster at all. I was not surprised by that. These fighters put themselves into artificial sleep, lasting for days, and buried themselves in chambers deep down in the earth. The blademaster jumped from the pedestal. I was the only one still standing there. Between us were just a few steps. He stormed in my direction. My muscles tensed, but I was too slow. Now it was impossible to still dodge. He was fast as a lightning flash. My breath paused. In a fraction of a moment our eyes crossed, while he passed me by. I just kept standing there, glued to the spot. At my shoulder, the shirt was ripped open and revealed a cut, so thin that I barely noticed it. My heart started beating again.
I turned around and saw the blademaster making his way up the street, followed by a troop of Keepers. It took way too long until I started moving again to follow them as well. His combat style was extraordinary like no other. Under no circumstances did I want to miss the end of his dramatic escape. A swath of destruction lay throughout the street. I saw the trader who had sold me the exorbitantly expensive bread. He was lying dead under the debris of his market stall. Apparently he had tried to hastily save all his property. A few innocents wallowed in their own blood, the ones that did not make it away quick enough. Finally, at the city gate, the Keepers headed him off and circumvented him. He saw himself surrounded by an overwhelming superior number of enemies. I arrived, gasping for air and leaned myself against one building wall. The Keepers created a circle with their halberds facing towards the blademaster. One man emerged from the troop and stepped inside the circle. My eyes widened. When I woke up this morning from my hard bed between blackberry bushes and thorns, I could never have imagined that I would experience such a spectacular situation like this. The one who stepped forward to the blademaster was Ragis Starseeker, at this time the very best swordsman of the Order and formerly student of the legendary Loram Waterblade. He had long, black flowing hair and was an outright handsome fellow. But his sharp cheekbones and the flawless complexion were just giving the impression of a gentle soul. His blade however was the most lethal weapon in all of Enderal.
Ragis took determined steps towards the blademaster, stopping in a respectful distance. Silence, like before a storm. There was not the slightest breath of wind. Suddenly, the blade whooshed out of Ragis' scabbard forwards. At the same time, the blademaster snatched his weapon upwards. The swords crossed with a loud clank in the middle and both opponents halted. “Name?”, Ragis asked in a calm voice. “Eremir. Fifth of the Chiming Shadows”, the blademaster responded. His voice reminded me of a gnarling, old wooden plank, floating through a river. “A Chiming Shadow…” Ragis' brow went upwards. “Well that is interesting. I would like to offer you a fair deal: Surrender, and you stay alive, Eremir. I do not want to kill you, it would be a terrible waste to the whole world. We can discuss everything in peace, without crossing blades. Choose the path of reason.”
“Do not act so innocent now. You knew exactly who I am. And I have already experienced what a ‘fair deal’ with the Order really means”, Eremir spitted. “You did not treat me fairly, you did not offer me any justice. I did not murder these people. They attacked me, I suppose following your commands to do so, Ragis. You are human scum. A deceitful snake without honour, determined to exterminate people such as me. You want to get rid of the Chiming Shadows and the Tyrangalar. You see them as a threat for your reputation, your cause. You have shrewdly turned it all on me. If you do not let me pass, a fight will break out.”
Ragis' mouth changed from a relaxed grin to a straight, soulless wrinkle. “Believe me, then you will also die”, Eremir said sharply. Ragis took a step back and dropped his cloak. “You asked for it.” He loosened the cuffs and collar of his jerkin. On top of it, his reinforced leather armour glimmered with golden ornaments.Then he extended his arm, pointing his sword towards his enemy. With grim expression on his face, Eremir emulated the movement.
The two opponents circled around each other, watching the other furtively, like feline predators, for the slightest sign of chance. Ragis flipped forward, with the elegance of an attacking viper. Eremir parried the attempt without any struggle. The blades danced and sparked a silver swirling storm. The permanence and velocity of the fighters was unrivalled. The smallest mistake would decide the outcome of the duel. I followed the clash, mesmerized by the storm of the swords. After fierce, acrobatic maneuvers, Ragis found himself one step ahead. With an insidious smile he dived under Eremir's approaching blade and hit him at the abdominal wall. It was a comparably small cut, but with serious consequences. Eremir tumbled backwards and hold his hand on the wound. Ragis directly tried to follow up but his tackle got dashed back.
“You are hiding behind your armour, coward!”, Eremir snapped. Ragis grin turned dreadful. He signaled two Keepers to him to take off his leather armour. “Now we are equal”, he said. His black hair was sticking to his forehead now. He took a delicate silk cloth and swiped the sweat away, then moved back into fighting position. Eremir was facing him, swathed only in his off-colour rags.
The storm restarted. The whirling, the dancing, the search for a weak point in the defense of the opponent. Eremir's movements were followed by a track of blood, dripping on the stones. The longer the fight would take, the more this wound would take a toll on him and I doubted if he had enough strength left to perform the Iron Cloak another time. In a sudden hurricane both blades met. They grinded along each other, rasping, in the face of their carriers. Abruptly, Ragis grabbed with his free hand Eremir's arm, who could not hinder it anymore. An awful munching resonated. The blade slowly pierced through his body, until it came out on the backside again. Ragis pushed forward and Eremir spat blood. The sword stuck. Ragis smiled satisfied, while the blood of his enemy stained his jerkin.
“The Chiming Shadows are not what they used to be. You quickly gav-”
He abruptly fell silent. His eyes stared bewildered and unbelieving down on Eremir's sword, which stuck in his stomach. The older blademaster thrust it with all his power through. Ragis rattled, and between his clenched up teeth flowed out blood. His face was petrified. His face lost all its colour.
“A fight is not over, before you have assured that your opponent is dead. This was a lethal mistake.Waterblade taught you well, but it seems he left out the most important lesson”, Eremir coughed with a bittersweet smile on his lips. “I warned you that you would die as well.”
They both spitted blood. The Keepers around them watched the spectacle motionless and in silence — numbed in awe. Ragis face turned into a grimace, filled with infinite hatred, but before he could respond something, his head sacked down. Eremir looked up to the sky. “Ah.” It sounded as if he was finally free now, as if a heavy burden was taken from him.
“Death, sweet death, rip my heart out of my chest!” he shouted, and the roar echoed from the houses around.“Now I finally see you again, my dear Iona.” Then he fell silent. The whole city — no — the whole world seemed to lapse into silence. Somewhere, high on top of a tree, a ruddock started chirping.