∴ A First Light Liaison∴
A chorus of birdsong heralds your arrival, footsteps certain over darkened, dew-strewn grass. A familiar surge takes hold of you. Once again in the half-light, while the city sleeps behind you, you come to meet your fate.
It’s said that all men have their vices, and this is yours: dawn light, dishonour, duel to first blood. An anonymous challenger, curious to test his skill against your unblemished record.
A light gleams from the riverbank, and your heart lurches like a hound that’s caught a scent. There, beneath the willow – two figures. Your opponent, and a second. One steps forward, silhouetted by the lantern clasped behind his back. Eager to assess an advantage, you size him up: slight of stature and perfectly poised in pale breeches. Something about the swordsman’s stance irks you as you approach. Something familiar you fail to put your finger on.
It’s the sword you recognise first, though for a moment your mind refuses to place it. Dark and slender, a scattering of stars across blackened plates. How could you forget such a gift, when you were once the one to give it?
Heart in your mouth, you draw your eyes upward to take in your opponent’s face: pale and heart-shaped, a dark curl slipping from its nest of pins, blue eyes laughing in the lantern light.
“Estella,” you whisper.
“Shall we?” she replies.
∴ A Binding Force∴
Mounted high above the mantle, the greatsword is an imposing thing. Your fellow confedorates can hardly keep their eyes from it, though whether they’re assured by its promised protection or cowed by insinuated force, you cannot guess.
The sword is a contradiction in itself, its delicately carved hilt offset by the brute length of its blade. As much as it suits the ceremonial surrounds , you’ve no doubt it was forged for battle.
A symbol of severance by its very nature, you think it strange that such a thing should preside over this moment. Yet as you lift the quill to add your name to the charter, you cannot help but be glad of it.
Just as a knight kneels to swear his oath and rises at the touch of a sword, so you make your alliegence known.
∴ A Heroic Improbability∴
Time does not grind so much as thud to a standstill, leaving you staring at your adversary, hands tight around the mahogany haft.
In that second-between-seconds, you almost want to laugh at the preposterousness of the situation. That it should all end here, on this field, not with a sword but a peasant’s tool repurposed. You know the stakes.
A miss at this measure will send the twin balls spinning round behind you, pulling you off balance at best, breaking your ribs at worst. Even a direct hit will result in a hideous pause before you can bring the haft up to protect yourself from a return blow. A perfectly executed strike will take time, or a miracle. And time is something you don’t have.
With a roar a whisper away from mania, you wheel your shoulder round and set the chains in motion.
∴ A Lingering Void ∴
You cannot remember finding the sword, nor lifting it from its dark stone pedestal. You only know that you craved it, and it was in your hand. Turning the blackened hilt in the half-light, you examine its strange engravings, caress the curve of the pommel, feel the weight of the blade.
So engrossed are you in your appraisal that at first you barely notice the sick sensation coursing through your veins – something alien, probing, tentative yet dauntless. A feeling that the sword is somehow trying you for size.
And there is laughter. Impossible laughter, pulsing through the chamber, rattling between ribs and up through your throat. You grasp your wrist with your left hand, digging nails into flesh, willing your fingers to quit the wire-wrapped grip.
The air clears. The sword falls to the ground with a clatter. You realise with a flood of relief and disappointment that the thing will linger on here, awaiting one far greater than you.
Far greater, and far more terrible.
∴ An Ornate Echo∴
The summer evening air is perfumed with orange and myrtle, carrying a cascade of memories. You close your eyes and drink in the melody of the place: running water punctuated by a nightingale trill. You fancy you can almost feel the palace’s rosy glow against your shoulders as you walk away.
They called it Paradise on Earth, once. A pearl amongst emeralds. Home to scholars, and artists, and princes. They told you those intricate arches and crystal pools would outlast the eons.
In a sudden rush of rage you draw your sword and swing it hard against the nearest tree. Standing amidst the splintered bark, you stare at the weapon in your hands. The downcurved quillons. The distinctive pommel. The delicate piercings.
It is true, an era has ended. But you’ll bear this reflection of it wherever you may go – and it will bring you justice.