The Amfracta Rapier and Dagger

∴ A Serpent’s Coils∴

The roar of the onlookers is a hot rush in your ears as you step out to meet your challenger. As you stride across the salle, one hand waving absently to the audience, you’re already sizing up the competition. 

The serpent, they call him. To be honest, you can’t see why. His slight stature, narrow eyes and nervous disposition put you more in mind of a rodent than a snake. 
But his sword – now that is a thing of beauty. A curling black guard, like his namesake’s sinuous coils, sweeping up into an elegant knuckleguard topped with a dragon’s head. 

Another look tells you that there’s more to this totem animal: clamped between the serpent’s jaws is a carved black heart. In every sword is a story, and this one is clear enough: beware the allure of the beast, for this one is a killer.

The horn sounds and you settle into guard, watching for your opponent’s tells. Almost immediately he circle-steps around you, smoothly, confidently. You follow him round, angling your blade to protect your right shoulder, only for him to take another sweeping step. 
You’ve seen this before: the serpent is back-footing you, forcing you to move in response to him, to fight on his terms. Knowing this, you relax and plan your lunge, waiting patiently for the gap in the arc of his next side-winding stride.

As you shift your grip on your sword, ready to strike, you realise that something is amiss. Your attacker is not where he ought to be. With a split-second sinking feeling, you understand: the serpent has not only been stepping around you, but with each stride fractionally nearer. Now, perfectly in measure, he catches your blade with his dagger and steps in to take the point.

You’ve been caught in the serpent’s coils.

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The Thalia Dagger

∴ A Perfect Pairing∴

A gold tooth gleams in the cruel crack of the bravo’s grin. He circles you lazily, no doubt hoping to coax an impulsive reaction from you.

He will be disappointed. You did not train for ten years to fall for his show and swagger. Your lunge, when you land it, will be elegant, ethereal, slipping his blade before he even realises you’ve moved. But you are no cold-blooded killer. You will let this one live to regret challenging you – and, of course, to spread the word of your talent to those more worthy of your time.

You line up your strike and release it, like an arrow from its nock, your blade spiraling lithely toward him. A moment of panic twists his smile into a snarl, but he surprises you, bringing the hilt of his weapon straight up to beat the thrust aside with his full force. He rounds on you, the gold-toothed grin returning.

And then his face changes: a look of puzzlement, and then horror, as a figure barrels in from behind you with the short, sharp flash of a dagger blade. You groan inwardly as the bravo does outwardly, the tip of your sister’s dagger suddenly pressed against his throat.

Assessing the situation in a second, you take advantage of the adversary’s shock, bringing your blade to bring against his and stepping in, knocking the sword from his hand with a flick of your own and bringing your knee up and into his groin. Not the elegant solution you had planned, but effective nonetheless.

As the challenger writhes in the dust behind you, you grab your little sister by the collar of her jerkin, wrenching her away from the scene. “I thought I told you to stay inside the inn,” you growl, holding out your hand for the dagger. She relinquishes it begrudgingly, and you study it for a moment, the same silver leaves dancing on its sail as on the guard of your sword. “And I thought I told you to stay out of my things.”

Thalia merely grins, shrugging away from your grasp and striding toward the tavern door with far more confidence than she’s due at her age.

“I reckon we make a pretty good team,” she says.

You shake your head as you watch her go, the dagger still glimmering in your hand. Thalia always gets in the way. And, one way or another, she always gets her way.

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The Reiter Reborn

∴ A Second Strike∴

You stride down the familiar corridor, your kidskin soles silent against the swirls of fine marble, but the carved quillons of your sword jangling against your belt buckles to announce your presence.

The door at the end of the hallway is open, and you know that your Master is within, eagerly awaiting your advice on his latest deal with the Lowlands. From the hints he’s been dropping lately, you suspect that there’s more to this meeting: after five years as an apprentice, you are considered ready to graduate as a guild member.

Keen as you are to fulfil this fate, there is something you must do first. You pause just before the door, and turn your full attention toward a small framed print on the wall. Smiling, you take in the wood-cut knight on horseback, riding through monsters and demons with a look of steadfast splendour.

This unassuming image was a source of solace when you first moved into the grand townhouse, a mere child of fifteen. You recall yourself tracing the delicate lines of the hero and his steed when you thought nobody was looking, longing for the simple morality of his fairy tale world as you naviagted a world of commerce and politics.

As you did then, you drop your hand almost instinctively to the wire and leather grip of your longsword, still striking in its similarity to the knight’s own brand with its curving quillons and a gleaming wheel pommel. Like the needle of a compass, you like to think the slender blade has kept you on course, reminding you of that straight-backed knight and the vows he might have made.

Your name rings out across the marble expanse. With a wistful sigh you nod your final salute to the woodcut knight, and turn to face your future.

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The Furlano Longsword

∴ A Problem Halved∴

The salle is silent but for the sound of clashing blades. Students line the long, high-ceilinged room like empty suits of armour, rigid and wordless, their eyes fixed on the fight.

The duel was not your decision. You can say that at least, though you might admit to goading your master into it. The fellow was never fond of you, from the first time you corrected his footwork. All it took was a little critique, an impertinent question or two, and a certain wrinkling of your nose when he held forth on measure. Eventually he was bound to crack.

And today he did, the words like music to your ears: “well if you’re such an expert, Mister Furlano, why don’t you prove yourself in a fight?”

You let the pause sound long, until all the students around you had pricked up their ears and strayed from their pairs to see the drama unfold. Then you gazed up with innocent eyes.

“Was that a challenge, Maestro?” you asked quietly.

And so the duel began: longswords, gloves and gambesons. A fight to first blood.

Your master fences much as you expected: at first flashy and uneconomical, keen to embarrass you in some splendid fashion. Then, as his tricks sputter out, he becomes coiled and defensive, stepping back from the engagement when he might press his suit. Finally, as he starts to tire and sees that you do not, he resorts to desperate swinging cuts that create great gaping voids.

You select one of these and step daintily into it, one hand sliding from the oxblood grip of your longsword to the thick forte of the blade, while the other remains cupped about the steely wheel pommel. You glance up just in time to see the panic in your master’s eyes before you jab both arms outward, the fangs of your crossguard flashing as the sword sinks between his ribs.

He stumbles back, clutching at his wound. You watch idly as students clamour around him, some casting wary glances in your direction, others staring openly with something like awe. The master’s wound will heal well. You chose your target carefully. His reputation will take a little longer to repair.

A flower of battle you may be, but that doesn’t make you any less of a thorn in the side.

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The Gratia Sword and Dagger

∴ A Gratuitous Art∴

Your feet fly over the wooden floorboards of the salle, and you hear them creaking in protest as you leap and lunge. You pay the sound no mind, consumed by the wooden waster dancing before you as you slip into a stoccata against your shadow partner.

As you drill you imagine the clash of steel against steel, the purity of that ring, the gasps of ghostly spectators as you cede away from a thrust in perfect time. You picture the long lines that you draw with your body as you pass and parry, the kaleidoscopic shapes you leave in your wake.

At last, out of breath, you land in a low lunge with a flourish. Your already pounding heart quickens as you hear slow, singular applause from the doorway of the salle.

Turning, flushed, with no hint of your practiced elegance, you see your master leaning languidly against the doorframe. In one hand he holds a single-edge sidesword, its grip a fluted column of brass and copper wire, its black guard curving in an S-shape around his bony fingers. In the other hand is a dagger, the sword’s unmistakable partner, alike in all ways but size and complexity of its guard.

“Apologies Master,” you pant, hurrying to replace the waster in the rack you took it from. “I got here early, and I wanted to warm up.”

“Why do practice?” the old man asks, toying with the dagger as he speaks. “Is there some dispute you wish to settle? Some competition you seek to win? Some woman you hope to impress?”

You have no answer that makes any sense, so you simply shake your head, staring down at your feet.

At this the master chuckles, stepping into the room with a catlike ease that belies his years.

“I’ve made a living out of teaching fighters. Hot-headed young men – they train to win. But it’s been a long time since I’ve taught an artist. Someone who trains simply to fight.”

You snap your gaze up to meet his, unsure whether or not he means this as a compliment. With a wink he tosses the elegant dagger to you, and out of surprise more than dexterity, your hand shoots out to catch that glittering grip.

“Let us begin,” the master says.

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