The Spell-less One (working title)
Author: Brenaq

Chapter 1
In the Twilight Vale

He walked down the steps to the forge cellar, each step bringing a wave of warmth.  Despite wearing metal armor and woolen tunic and hood, he didn’t seem to be affected by the heat.  Behind him, a group of frightened farmers followed him into the oppressiveness.

He pulled two daggers from their sheaths at his waist as he came off the last step.  He glanced around the forge room.  It still showed signs of the workers’ hasty evacuation.  He kept searching until he found the reason the blacksmiths had retreated.

A large pile of sand, with a boulder lying on top of it, sat right next to the belly of the forge.  The man set off towards the pile of sand purposefully.  As he headed towards it, the boulder shifted then floated off of the pile.  A pair of glowing pink eyes gazed out and a subtle rattle began to emanate from the sand.

In a flash, the eyes darted out of the darkness of the pile of sand complimented by a gigantic reptilian head.  Its fangs flicked out and dripped with venom as the snake struck but it only bit into the soft, sandy flooring. 

The man danced nimbly out of its range and attacked it from the side.  He leaped onto the length of the snake’s body and stabbed it multiple times before it flung him with a spasm of its powerful body.  He dodged its mace-like tail and jumped on it once again, repeating the process of being thrown after a few, ineffectual stabs.  The wounds were barely superficial but the man refused to switch to one of his longer blades.

The snake was starting to get annoyed; its hiss became vicious, its eyes nearly spat its hatred of the elusive nuisance.  It started to work its strikes into coordinated combinations, swinging its tail at the man then instantly following with a lunge with its fangs.  But the man always stayed just out of harm’s way.

The serpent lunged during just such another series of attacks, when the man jumped unto its head and started stabbing its skull.  Again it did nothing but aggravate the beast and it threw him up into the air with a flick of its head.  It opened its maw in ready anticipation of the meal gravity was about to drop into its mouth but the man managed to land on the tip of its snout and somersault away.

The snake threw caution to the wind and fully extended its truly massive body in a terrific lunge.  The man straightened an arm as he landed lightly and whispered a single word. 

The slashes along the snake’s body began to glow and the seemingly random attacks became three identical, mysterious runes carved along the snake’s length.  The snake’s eyes became unfocussed, its directed lunge becoming a chaotic fall.  The snake’s body crashed into the floor and skidded to stop right at the foot of the hooded man’s boot.

One of the farmers that were waiting at the foot of the stairs dropped his pitchfork in awe. 

Another, obviously their leader, walked over to the man and stared up at the body of the monster. “Ye kilt it?”  He gave it a soft kick.

The man pulled the farmer back as the snake’s tail came crashing down on the spot where the farmer had just been. “No.  It is asleep.”

The man made a star sign and backed a few steps from the beast. “Kiryan, let me see der stars!”  He signaled to the other farmers and they trotted up to meet him. “Ullim, git some archers.  We’ll fill der beast wit arrers till it’s dead.”

“No!”  The strength of the hooded man’s voice was startling; he had only spoken in a whisper until that moment.  The hooded man stuck out an arm to block the farmer’s path but pulled his arm back as the farmer’s face paled and his legs started to give way. “I will remove the Ygrll myself.” 

Ullim scratched his head in bewilderment. “How yer gone git ol’ Mace-tail out?  He’s too dimmed big ta fit tru da door.” His observation was met with sounds and murmurs of agreement.

The man walked around the snake, carving signs into the ground with a dagger.  When he had completely travelled around the snake, he sat down and began a low chant.  The signs he had carved began to glow a soft bluish-white.  His chant began to increase in intensity and tempo and the light grew in brightness along with it.  Soon, the light became blinding and the chant reached its climax.  The light slowly faded and the circle was revealed to be empty.

A few of the farmers made the star but their leader gave a low laugh.  He walked up to the rising man and clapped him on the back. “Izt nah wonder thee call ye der Segull Swordsman, izznit?”

They led him back up the stairs and into the bright midday sun.  The farmers shielded their eyes as the entire village stood awaiting the news.  The lead farmer, after a few moments, cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed: “Der Mace-tail is gone!   Der Swordsman has dun it!”

With those words, the town burst in jubilation.  The men danced women and children, caught up in the adults’ joy, danced with anyone, or anything, readily available.  The Swordsman had to wade his way through dozens of swooning young women.  Every female of the marrying age wondered what it would be like to have the Swordsman, who had vanquished a gigantic snake by himself, as a husband and quite a few men relished the idea of such a son-in-law.

However, the Swordsman spoke not a word as he pushed past hysterical young women and envious old men.  He finally managed to reach his horse amidst the sea of pushing people.  The horse did not seem flustered by the press of bodies, nor the cacophony from the crowd.

Before he could escape, however, the lead farmer grabbed his leg forcefully. “Ye kin nah be leavin’ alreddee?!  We may be poor but we’ll give ye a night ta remember, by Kiryan we will!”

The Swordsman shook his head. “I’m sorry.  I am needed elsewhere and this stop was not planned.”

“Ye kin nah even stay der night?” the farmer asked, with a frown.  A shaken head was his only reply. “Well, let me at least send ye off.”

He called a man away from his dance partner and sent him off with a whispered command.  The horse whinnied softly and pranced in spot, as if anxious to leave.  Soon, the man came back laden with a large saddlebag of breads, cheeses, and hunk of lamb meat.

“ ‘Tis nah much but I knah ye kin use it.” The farmer reached up and grasped the Swordsman’s forearm. “Kiryan, let us see der night stars.”

The Swordsman held the lead farmer’s arm firmly. “Tyuma, guide us in the morning sun.” he replied, his small smile was hidden beneath the shadows of his cowl.  “Stay well.  By Kiryan and Tyuma, I will return by this way again.”

The Swordsman gave his horse’s flank a swift kick and was soon lost in the green shadows of the surrounding forest.

†  †  †

The celebration of the Ygrll’s removal had lasted well into the late afternoon but was winding down when a group of armored men came riding into the square.  Each of the men had a flaming ebony star emblazoned on their cuirasses.  All of the men wore black hoods except for one man who wore a black helmet with the visor pulled down over his eyes.

Most of the men slipped off of their horses and stood, hands on the pommels of their swords and the hafts of their axes, as if expecting an attack at any moment.  Only the helmeted man and one other hooded man were astride their horses now.  The hooded men, a lanky fellow, walked his horse forward and Influenced his voice.

“Gather ‘round, all villagers, gather ‘round” his voice boomed and echoed unnaturally throughout the forest clearing. “We are an official delegation from the Kiryidu Anula mercenary guild.  Gather ‘round!”

The townspeople slowly filtered into the square, their disquiet whispers mixed with the sound of the twilight crickets.  The lead farmer pushed his way through the crowd and stood staring at the mercenaries with distrust. “What is yer issue wit us?”

The herald ignored the question and reached into one of the saddlebags on his horse’s flanks. He pulled a piece of parchment paper out and unfurled it; it displayed a crude but distinguishable recreation of the Sigil Swordsman’s appearance.

“We were employed to locate this man.  ‘e travels under the names of the ‘Sigil Swordsman’ or ‘Tezen Vun’,” He swiveled in his seat to allow all of the townspeople a clear view of the image. “We ‘ave reason to believe ‘e may have passed through this village.  As ‘is name implies, ‘e is armed and could prove very deadly if detained.  We are willing to offer a sum of twelve suns for information leading to ‘is capture!”

The villages began to talk excitedly amongst themselves, calculating exactly how much they could buy at the biannual Trading; twelve suns is more than the entire village made in three harvests’ worth of trading.

The lead farmer quickly put an end to such thoughts. “And why might ye be follering him?” he inquired, his tone making it clear that he was not going to cooperate.

“ ‘Tis the private pleasure of our employer.  The contents of the agreement are not to be discussed within the hearing of non-guild members.” The herald replied snobbishly.

The lead farmer’s brows furrowed in anger. “I think I’ll ask ye ta leave.  We have nothin’ ta say ta th’ likes o’ ye.”

The helmeted man gave a feral growl. “I don’t have time to bandy words with peasants.” He curled his mailed hand into a fist and raised it above his head.

The lead farmer slowly rose into the air, his face turning red as he struggled to breathe.  The men of the village gave a collective shout and pushed out in the direction of the mercenary leader.  He and his horse were flung back a few feet and the Influence he had been exerting on the lead farmer was broken.  The mercenary leader caught himself in midair while his screaming horse struggled to regain its hooving.

He gave a coarse laugh. “Ah, you’ve got some fight in you!  I like it!” He hovered three feet off the ground as he walked back to the crowd.  “What’s your name, farmer?”

“Gilum.  And that’s der last word ye’ll git outta me!” The lead farmer replied, spitting on the toe of the man’s steel boots.

He lowered himself to the ground, scuffing the spittle into the dirt, unconcernedly. “And you two ?”  Gesturing to the two largest, yet youngest, men in the group who had retaliated.

“We’re Baire.” They replied in unison.

“One at a time, you country bumpkins!” The mercenary leader shouted angrily.

They stared back calmly. “We kint speak one atta time iffin ye ask our names,” one said.

“We’re both Baire, so we speak at der same time.” the other continued.  They folded their arms and stood as stolidly as stone sentinels.

The mercenary leader shook his head in disgust. “Nevermind.  You, all of you,” He swung around to address the entire village. “Will tell me what I want to know about Tezen Vun or I will burn this stain on the map to the ground!” He snapped his finger and the corner of the thatched barn roof started smoking.  Before their eyes, the roof burst into black flames and, with an unnatural speed, the entire building had burn itself out; nothing more than a dusty soot stain on the ground to mark what had once been a home.

The townspeople stared in horror at the senseless cruelty and the helmeted mercenary exuded malevolence. “One.  And so many more left to burn.”  He drew his sword as if daring anyone to attack him.

Just then, the sound of galloping came ringing from the forest and a female voice shouted out.“Graune!  What is the meaning of this?”

A tall woman with dark raven hair and a piercing glare rode into the small village with a large company of soldiers following in train.  The villagers, unused to such large amounts of traffic, were at least glad to see a large party of armed soldiers until they noticed that each of the men had a flaming black star adorned on his cuirass as well.

The woman, however, wore no such emblem, just motley-dyed leather armor.  She used her Influence to jump from her horse and land right in front of the helmeted Graune; her face was a mask of righteous fury.

“Bullying villagers was not what I paid your guild for!  As you are so adept at forgetting, I shall remind you!” She punctuated each word with a jab to the chest. “It is to find I—Tezen Vun.  I will not remind you again, Graune.  Act out again in such a manner and I will take my business, and my suns, elsewhere!”

“Yes, Lady Relia,” his whisper coming out as more of a hiss. “As you wish.”  He stepped into the saddle and rode off into the forest.

Relia glared off in the direction he had exited as the villagers finally received a chance to adjust to the shocks that had come upon them in waves.  Gilum, once again, was the one who broke the tense silence.

“Lady, aye?” he asked, eyeing her with a mixture of thanks and distrust.

“Yes, only daughter of Lord Irrimaj of Celvacea.” She replied, turning towards him.

He looked shocked. “Celvacea?  Long ways from ‘ome,  ain’t ye?  Yer aller way in Hemuria in facts, ye weren’t awares.”

“Yes, I am aware of the distance.” She said musingly, eyes growing misty with memories. “But there are matters closer to home to take care of.  By that, I mean the home my mercenary burned down.  How much shall I pay?” She reached toward her waist for a pouch.

Gilum shook his head. “We don’t want money.  Th’ materials ta rebuild are all ‘round us.”

“I insist!” Relia replied in consternation. “I would feel terrible knowing that one under me had harmed another and I had not recompensed for the ill done.”

 “No, milady, we’ll be fine.” Gilum answered, adamantly.  “But, perdon my speak, t’would serve us fine if ye and yer mercenaries would leave.  ‘Tis too much commotion for village folk, such as we.”

Relia nodded but still did not look happy.    As she turned around, Gilum grabbed her shoulder.

“Wait, milady,” He said signaling to Baire brothers. “I don’t trust the mercenaries ye be travelling with.  I would be o’ better mind iffin ye took my boys wit ye.”

“They are your sons?” she asked.

Gilum nodded. “Aye.  Good lads and strong wit axes and Influence.” He told her, pride casting a slight tremor into his voice.

She looked at Baire as they walked towards them and shook her head. “No, no.  I couldn’t possibly separate them from their father.”

Gilum scratched his head in thought for a minute before smiling roguishly. “Could ye nah find reason ta hire personal bodyguards?  My boys needed ta become apprentices at some time.”

Relia beamed. “Oh, of course!  Though I would have to pay you for their initial services.”

He shrugged. “Pay or not, they’ll be wit ye.”

Baire had stood silently throughout the proceedings, registering no emotions at the news. “Does this contract agree with you?  Both of you?” Relia asked them, concerned at their lack of sentiment.

They shared a look that spoke of a secret, intimate conversation. “We don’t got a problem wit anything said.” One said. “Besides what pa says goes.” The other continued.

Baire gave a stiff bow. “We’re at yer service, Lady Relia.” They spoke in unison.

“Excellent!” Relia exclaimed, clapping for joy.  She surveyed the milling mercenaries and decided it was time to leave before any further altercations arose between the two parties.  She summoned the herald and held a short meeting before sending him to the main contingent of the guild.

“Are you sure there is nothing you can tell us of where Tezen Vun might have gone?” Relia inquired.

Gilum stared at the sky as if asking for guidance before meeting her eye. “He did our village a great kindness.  I kin nah willfully return his good wit ill.  So ye must promise that ye mean him nah harm.”

Relia looked at him, bemused, “Mean him harm?  No—”

The herald came galloping back to them, followed by two other men.  One of the riders was leading her horse. “Lady Relia, our scouts have returned.  They have found the Swordsman trail.  We must pursue him now before it becomes too dark to follow his trail.”

“Oh, how excellent!” she replied, face aglow. “Tervin, please find suitable mounts for my bodyguards.”

“My lady, if you wished to have personal bodyguards, all you need have done was ask.” Tervin glanced down his nose at Baire. “We can provide you with the best swordsman in the guild.  You deserve better than these…. farmhands.” He managed to slide a whole sentence’s-worth of contempt into the single word.

Relia’s face darkened, ominously. “These ‘farmhands’ are fully capable of assuring my safety.  Unless, of course, you doubt my ability to judge a decent fighter?”

“No, no my lady.  Of course not,” he fawned, bowing as low as he possibly could in his saddle. “I only look towards your safety.”

Gilum clapped Relia on the back as she massaged her temples. “Der woes o’ leadership!” he laughed. “Go well, Lady Relia.”

She smiled at him, “Kiryan, let us see the stars.”

“Tyuma, guide us in the morning sun,” he replied.

He, then, took his sons aside and held a quick conversation.  There were no tears between just a stolid farewell of men past the age of sentimental  speeches.

Baire walked quickly to their horses and swung into the saddle.  Within minutes, Lady Relia and her two bodyguards were galloping on the trail of Tezen Vun, the Sigil Swordsman.

†   †   †

 

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