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 Aegir Estoc

∴ A Stormy Sign∴

The small wooden dock groans under the weight of the crowd crammed closely upon it. It seems the entire village has come to witness the departure of the serpent-prowed ship that sits high in the water.

Broad-shouldered fighters in furs and leathers clap one another on the back in greeting and solidarity. Inky-robed mages lean casually against their staffs. Husbands and wives clamour around them, buckling breastplates and bidding them sail home safely before winter.

You wonder why it is that the raiders always set out to sea fully armed. They are unlikely to face any foes this close to the fjord, and even less likely to find new land within the next week. Perhaps it is a symbol of the battle they are due to fight with the sea itself – a fight for their lives against proud Aegir himself.

Fear and envy wrestle within you. Your mother forbade you join the raid this year – you are too young, she insisted. Besides, she would need your help with the harvest. You protested at the time, but now you come to look at the slender wooden boat and the churning, seething waves beyond the haven, a part of you is glad to stay on land.

The crowd parts suddenly, and you turn to see the Jarl himself striding toward the ship, his one-eyed soothsayer lingering in his wake. As the pair approach, you feel flutter of thrill in your stomach, not because of the Jarl’s own greatness, but because of the sword at his side:

Black-hilted, ring-pommeled, and lovingly carved with the Midgard Serpent itself, the thing is the subject of endless stories. Many times you have sat wide-eyed by the fire as the bard tells of the serpents it has slain, and the foes it has cast to Aegir’s storm-happy daughters.

As the Jarl draws level with you, the soothsayer places a hand on his shoulder, murmuring something into his ear. The Jarl stops, a look of confusion crossing his face, and turns to take you in. Your heart nearly stops as those solemn blue eyes sweep up and down your height.

“You are certain?” he asks.

“I have seen,” the old sage creaks in reply.

With a heavy sigh the Jarl unbuckles the belt that holds the legendary sword of his bloodline, and holds it out to you.

“Who am I to argue with auguries?” he grumbles.

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The Sigismund Sword

 

∴ A Champion’s Tool∴

Another explosion sounds from beyond the blasted temple, blood-curdling cries in its wake. You spit a mouthful of grit and blood into the carpet of white ash you are crouched in, and grimace as you rise to your feet.

Your helmet remains wedged under your arm, but even without its heightened senses, you can sense that you’re not alone. An armoured figure steps from behind a crumbling pillar, and with relief you spot the Imperial sigil emblazoned on his shoulder. He carries a caliver slung over one shoulder, and something swathed in black cloth held flat in both outstretched hands.

There is something about the carefully-wrapped object that holds your attention, even as you look the figure up and down. It is as if it speaks to you. The edge of a whisper, lost at once against the clamour of battle. You furrow your brow, at once enthralled and repelled.

The intruder speaks in a low rumble, half muffled by his helmet. 

“He says you are chosen to wield this weapon,” he begins, shaking the thing loose from its bindings.

It is a sword, you can tell that much. But where you expect the harsh reflection of honed steel, there is only shadow. A deep, mottled darkness that absorbs what little light makes it into the ruinous space.

“He?” you ask, confounded. The whispering grows more distinct as you step toward the figure. You think you can make out words, but they are lost again before you can settle on what they are.

The stranger tilts the sword toward you, and suddenly the screaming and explosions cease, all sound imploding into silence. You feel as if you have been plunged into cold, dark water: the ecstasy of anguish, infinitely removed from the world around you, the sword consuming your consciousness.

It is bleakness and beauty, a broad and dominating blade that drinks in light, beneath a grinning silver skull, splashed with gold. The hilt is half-wrapped in golden wire, and crowned with a cruel black diamond pommel.

Here in this world between worlds, the whispers take form – and in tongues you did not know you knew, they tell of the sword’s many centuries, of its first forging at the Emperor’s command, and of a new command: your name, again and again, growing louder and rhythmic like a heartbeat.

With the Emperor’s will surging through your blood, you push forward with a roar, clasping your metal-gloved hand around the wire-wrapped hilt, and snatching it away from its bearer.

At once you feel something blacken inside you. That same velvet-deep void that the blade beckons now fills your mind, and you know with appalling and pitch-black certainty what must be done.

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The Wyntuna Longsword

∴ A Murderous Chase ∴

The valley winds winter-stark and lovely below you: a maze of dry-stone walls, rough with lichen. Wind-bleached grasses lap at them like waves against harbour walls. The glowering slate sky is mirrored in the winding River Eden, a steely horseshoe meander amidst the green-grey grass.

Were you to pause, you could take the familiar view in from your precarious precipice path. But all you can do now is run. Breathless and red-faced, you run with your pulse outpacing your steps, hands full of bundled-up skirts to speed your way.

The bandit lopes after you with a stream of stumbling curses. It is clear he doesn’t know this land, and you use the fact to your advantage, leap-frogging styles and loping over hidden ditches. Still, his pace is longer, and you can feel him gaining ground.

Scrambling over a low stone wall, you note some slabs displaced – a crumbling concave in an otherwise uniform crest. A glint catches your eye between the loose stones. Something buried. Or something half dug-up.

Letting impulse guide you, you throw yourself down behind the wall, scrabbling between fallen stones with chapped, raw hands. Your fingers brush cold steel, and your heart thrills to think you’ve found a spade or a bill – something you might use as a weapon.

Desperately you claw at the stones still holding your treasure fast. Fingernails tear and knuckles split, worn through by the rough rocks, but you manage to get a hand around the strange metal bar and pull.

Suddenly the bandit is upon you, leering down from the other side of the wall. Your heart sinks as he reaches for the sword at his hip, yet you can’t give up now. With all your remaining strength, you heave.

With a sound like a giant’s sigh, the wall gives way, stones shifting over stones to land at your feet. You stand taken aback amidst the tumult with a longsword in your bloodied hands. To your surprise and confusion, you are holding it by the broad triangular blade, its dark green handle and gleaming orb of a pommel extended skywards.

The bandit is surprised too, reeling back in a moment of uncertainty. Unthinking, unable to wait, you raise the sword up by the blade with both hands, bringing the smooth-polished pommel down with a crack against the brigand’s skull.

He slumps over the wall, a look of sheer bewilderment frozen across his craggy features. Taking only a moment to reposition your hands around the sword’s emerald grip, you turn away and run. Continue reading