–The Age of Death,
The Seventh World
First War of Lock Core, Post Exodus 586–
Out of nowhere the blackened staff appeared and smacked against his wrist -- the only wrist he had. Gritting his teeth, he swallowed his scream as he felt the bones shatter. He lost his grip on his weapon, and with a clatter, the blade fell to the field of grey stones they had chosen as their fighting ground.
As quickly as it came, the staff withdrew.
Sneering at the fallen blade, his pain became anger.
Without hesitation, the young man summoned the full might of his power, covering himself from head to toe in azure flames. He raised his left arm -- which was a stump, ending several inches below his elbow – and sent blue flames pouring from the end of the amputated limb. The flames coiled around the cherry wood handle at his hip, slipping the blade from its leather scabbard. As the weapon slid free from the scabbard, the silver, leaf-shaped cross-guards and orchid inlay sparkled beneath the blue flames. His mage-fire encompassed the weapon, animating it, forcing the weapon to circle clockwise in the air, its razor edge leading the way. Spinning like a windmill in a hurricane, he launched the blade at his opponent, who was stoically still, awaiting its arrival.
Moving so fast it appeared a solid circle of silver and blue-fire, the weapon came at the gaunt, eight-foot tall being.
Meanwhile, the pain subsided from his wrist as blue flames raged through his body, fusing the broken bones in his right hand.
He clenched his hand into a fist. Flame dripped from his fingers, falling to the slab of stone and burning their way to where the other orchid blade rested. Crackling with power, the flames curled around the weapon’s hilt, hoisting it back into his waiting hand.
Just as his fingers wrapped around the handle, the spinning wheel of steel and flame came upon his opponent . . . only to be met with a similar spinning wheel; this one, a whirlwind of blackened wood.
The young man felt his power drain as the two forces collided. Even so, the exchange only served to fuel his anger – and therefore his power. He channeled them both against his opponent.
Impossible! he fumed, as the charred wooden staff continued to absorb his energy while simultaneously blocking his every strike.
Even after many such sessions, many such battles, he continued to be amazed and confounded by the elf’s abilities. Not only could he drain the vast amounts of mage-fire he sent against him – enough power to make the Destroyer envious – but it seemed physically impossible that any living being could move so fast, especially considering he was unaided by the Singularity.
Let’s see what you’re truly capable of, One Elf, the young man thought, his grip tightening on his other blade.
This time, he would force his opponent to be even faster . . .
This time, Tetloan was going to put the One Elf to the test . . .
The One Elf’s staff began to take on a bluish hue as Tetloan leapt forward, his strength, speed and agility enhanced to their utmost by the Singularity.
Tetloan’s form was still far from perfect, but like the One Elf taught him; what he lacked in perfection, he could compensate for with brute force and power. Since the beginning, the One Elf knew they had a limited time to train, and he would never make a sword-master out of him before they reached the city. And now, they were nearing Lock Core, and thus nearing the end of their little training sessions. Indeed, as Tetloan attacked, his footing was all wrong, his poise sloppy, and his balance awkward. They may be close to Lock Core, but he was still a long way from becoming a sword-master.
But . . .
The One Elf taught him other things, a bag of tricks with which he could intertwine the Singularity with his limited sword-fighting skills. And thus, he could become something else . . . something far deadlier than a sword-master, or even a Magi. By combining Nathalia’s razor sharp blades with his power, the One Elf had trained him to be a weapon more deadly than any sword-master ever dreamed.
The One Elf also taught him that the Magi of the old order shunned the use of any weapon, other than mage-fire, and that the One Elf had met only a few who had gone against that rule. But those that did successfully join the two disciplines became far more lethal fighters than virtually all of their peers.
A single step sent him flying through the air, faster than a lightning strike. The keen edge of the orchid blade came down in an arc . . . right where Solo Ki’s head was . . . Or where it used to be. A strip of dirty fabric drifted through the air where the elf once stood. Undeterred, Tetloan continued swinging with the weapon in his right hand, while simultaneously pressing his attack with his other animated blade. Using the spinning weapon to keep the One Elf too busy to initiate his own offensive, Tetloan chased the One Elf down with his other blade, hacking and slashing wherever the lanky being appeared.
As if fighting a ghost, the One Elf vanished wherever his blade fell. The elf’s cape suffered one serious blow after another, but the elf was always one step ahead of him. He couldn’t fathom how he continued to miss the elf. His intended target was so large, yet moved with such fluid grace. And for a being that seemed so decrepit, worn and weary, he was incredibly agile and quick. Even so, it shouldn’t have been possible for the elf to dodge him, not when he moved so fast. Not when his every pore was broiling with the mage-fire.
Tetloan was beginning to believe the One Elf was anticipating his thoughts, reacting before Tetloan had even thought to act.
The longer the fight lasted, the greater the drain on his power. Little by little, it was slipping, consumed by the One Elf’s twisted staff. He had to act quick, end the battle before the One Elf managed to free himself from the spinning blade.
Beyond the rudimentary sword skills, the One Elf taught him a thing or two with the Singularity. Normally, he wouldn’t resort to such foul play, but the One Elf had said so himself; everything was fair game. If he had to cheat to win, then do so.
Sending his power directly against the elf was useless, he knew that from experience. But for a skilled mage, everything in the environment could be considered a potential weapon. Taking a quick look around, Tetloan saw many such a field of such weapons.
His energy went out in all directions. Dozens of giant stone slabs arose from the ground.
He sought to hurl them at the One Elf, or at the least hamper his movement, box him in so he couldn’t escape his blade so easily. But yet again, the One Elf proved an elusive foe. As they flew at him, the crafty old bastard used the stones against him, leaping from one to the next as if they were stepping stones. He also timed their movements to shield himself from Tetloan’s spinning blade. Dancing his way through the slabs of grey stone, he even managed to slip between them and thrust his staff out at Tetloan.
The butt of the staff struck him squarely in the forehead. Tetloan fell to his knees, the stones all fell from the air, as did his spinning blade.
The pain disorientated him, and the staff drained his power.
“You promised me you would put them to use,” the One Elf said, looming over him. “And that you would give me your all.”
He felt his power rising . . . along with his anger . . .
“You said you would send the Dark Army to hell . . .”
“I will,” Tetloan growled, his rage building as he stared at the fallen orchid blade. “I will kill them all!”
“Then do so,” the One Elf said, stepping back, raising his staff into a defensive stance. “Starting with me.”
Tetloan filled with power . . . more so than ever before. So much so that it didn’t merely cover him, it consumed him. For the first time in his life, he didn’t try to control it, he became one with it.
He stood up, his flesh was fire, a pyre of blue flames that burned to the heavens.
Tetloan sent his power out, all of it. Solo Ki was engulfed. Even his legendary Graelic had trouble absorbing the vast amount of raw power. He swung out with his sword as the inferno raged over the One Elf; the orchid blade coming faster and more powerful than ever before. There was the standard, disappointing “thunk” as the blade was intercepted by the staff. But surprisingly, the blade had actually imbedded itself in the staff. Solo Ki himself looked upon it in shock, and then his grey and white eyes widened even further . . . when they beheld the other orchid blade sticking out of his chest.
Tetloan grabbed hold of the elf as he collapsed. Cradling the giant elf with his power, his used his good hand to pull the sword from his back.
“I didn’t mean to . . .” he said, amazed that he had actually managed to overpower elf. But saddened as well. During their journey to Lock Core he had developed tremendous respect for the ancient being and never actually intended to harm him – he didn’t believe it was possible to even do so. After failing for so long to so much as scratch him, he never actually thought it was possible to hit him, let alone land a lethal blow. For Tetloan, the death of the One Elf would be a tragic loss for all of the Seventh World. And for it to occur by his hand, would be a travesty he could not bear.
“I’ll take you to Emily, she can heal you . . .” Tetloan stammered, knowing his healing skills were more than a little bit lacking. “She can heal anything.”
To his amazement, the One Elf laughed. With every dying chortle, bloody phlegm spewed from his mouth, but still he laughed.
Then, still clutched tightly in his skeletal hands, the bluish glow of his staff faded to black. Blood stopped pouring from his chest, and from his lips.
With the wound fully healed, the One Elf said, “You’ve done well, boy.”
He stood up, Tetloan’s eyes no higher than his chest.
“But before we face the Plague, there is one more lesson you need to learn . . .”
The elf stared down at him, his grey and white eyes lifeless and cold.
“The next time you kill something . . . make sure it is dead.”