The Blood

by disperser

The Blood

by E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright June, 2012

Affein parried the blow with ease, countering with a blow from her small battle-axe to the recruit’s shield.  The shield took a dent, and transferred a good portion of the energy to the arm holding it.  The recruit stepped back, a measure of irritation lighting his eyes.  

She got ready; he was upping the magic, and she would have to step up her own performance.  The result was not in question; he would gradually increase the magic he could bring to bear, and eventually defeat her.  This was training.  Magic required effort, and her job was to train new recruits to the Senior Guard for combat.  The less magic one used, the longer they could fight.  

Affein was the only one serving in The Guard who was not of The Blood.  Those of The Blood were Lords, Nobles, Elite Soldiers, and one, the most powerful, was Ruler.  They wielded magic as reward and as punishment.  All bowed to The Blood, some out of gratitude, many out of fear.  

Nearing her 50th winter, some questioned why Affein held her position in the Guard, but none questioned her abilities. Hand-to-hand, sword, knife, axe, or lance, she was skilled beyond any.  As long as they did not use magic.

The recruit got perceptively larger, his sword shined with energy, and even the dent in his shield was gone.  He came in fast, and despite her excellent reflexes, she absorbed a solid blow to her arm from his shield.  His sword passed harmlessly where she had been a few heart-beats before.  She continued on her trajectory, rolled, and came up facing the recruit.  He had lost control.  He looked even bigger, his sword shimmered with energy, and his eyes had gone white.  

No longer training, this was now a matter of survival.  She estimated she needed to last sixty heart-beats, maybe less.  The recruit came at her, very fast despite his size, but that speed and size also robbed him of maneuverability.  Affein sidestepped him, grabbed his arm, and used his momentum to swing herself across his back.  There was nothing she could do to him to cause him harm.  In this state he was practically invulnerable.  Hers was a delay tactic.

The recruit threw himself back, trying to crush Affein between himself and the ground.  She barely cleared being crushed, but now she was on the ground, and he was already up and thrusting his sword at her.  

Too late!” she thought, even as she rolled to avoid his thrust.  The blade cut through both her tunic and the leather vest underneath, and sliced her side.  A flesh wound, and she yelled out in anger more than pain.

The recruit was readying another stab when three Senior Guards fell upon him, driving him back, and pinning his sword arm. Affein rolled up, battle-axe in hand, and moved toward the group.  Three others came between her and her target.  She stopped and calculated the odds.

“Yield!!”  yelled Addras, Commander of The Guard.

She tightened her grip on the axe.  His response was swift.  Unlike the recruit, he grew fast, but controlled his anger.  His sword turned a dark red, and his stance widened, pulling one foot slightly backward.  He could move in any direction.  Affein regarded him, then looked down at her sword still laying on the ground.  

“How many of us do you think you could take?”  On those words, the other two spread out, and they too went into battle mode.  These were no recruits, and she had trained them well.

“He tried to kill me!” She said as she dropped her axe.

“You forget your station, Affein.” He maintained battle mode as he spoke, a testament to the respect he had for Affein’s fighting skills. “Retire to your quarters, and I’ll be there shortly.”

She made to pick up her weapons, but Addras spoke. “Leave them!”

She hesitated, looked at the three of them, bowed, and turned away.  Walking away, she again cursed her inability to wield magic. She could have easily been one of the nobles, and sometime thoughts of being Ruler crossed her mind.  She knew well the abilities of the others, and if she could only match their magic, she would best them all.  

Fifty winters . . . each winter weighed heavier on her than the prior.  Soon she would be dismissed from The Guard, unable to fulfill even her limited role.  The thought scared her; she had known nothing else.

Later she set to the mindless, but important, task of cleaning her fighting tunic and leathers.  It allowed her mind to wonder without purpose, helping her find her calm.  The sound of approaching footsteps took a few heart-beats to register.   She set everything aside as Addras entered her tent.

He carried her weapons, now cleaned and sharpened.  He set the axe and sword next to her dagger.  He looked at them for a second, sighed, and turned to face Affein.  

“The passing winters are not imparting wisdom to your actions.” His tone was almost sad.

Affein made to speak, but he held his hand up.  “I know,” he continued, “he could have killed you.”

He moved to the bench, sat, and regarded Affein for a number of heart-beats before speaking.  

“The Ruler wants you to join his caravan.  He, you, and fifty of the Elite Guard will travel East.  He seeks a legend . . . someone rumored more powerful than any magic known.  The Ruler believes you will be important to the success of the quest.”

“Me?” Affein could not form additional words, her mind struggling to work out how she could be the crucial component of any quest against someone more powerful than any magic known.

“You.”  Addras looked at her in silence. Then his visage changed as if he had resolved an internal conflict.  “This legend is spreading West.  So far nothing has even slowed it, let alone stopped it.  The ruler has studied the reports, what few we’ve received, and concluded you are uniquely positioned to counter it.”

“I . . . I don’t understand . . .” Her many questions could not find a voice; the idea was overwhelming.

“Not your place to understand. Just be ready at sunrise.”  Addras rose, and without another word he left her standing there.

She hardly slept, but in the morning she was ready, leather under her fighting tunic, sword in her shoulder scabbard, and the battle axe held in place by her knife belt.  Her short hair was held back by the headband her father had fashioned from his fighting tunic when he got too old to fight.  His time in the world ended a few winters after that, and she still missed him so.

She arrived at the courtyard to find the Ruler and the guards in formation, facing East.  As she neared, without a signal word spoken, they all moved.  The journey had begun.  She waited for the opening in the ranks that signified her place, pleased it was so near the front.  She stepped in, and fell into the walking page of the group.  Uncertainty reigned over her mind, but her spirit soared at the sound of one hundred and four feet marching in unison.  

She could not feel, but saw the evidence of magic swirling all around her . . . swords changing hues, the very air shimmering at unseen forces flowing through the ranks.  She could see the Ruler up front.  His presence seemed to split the very air, as a sword might a piece of cloth . . . marching was almost effortless.  The entourage, another sixty or so strong, followed in a less organized fashion.

On the 23th sunrise they crested a hill.  The road continued to the distant horizon, but before them stood a man.  As if a wave had hit them, the front of the column stopped, and staggered back.  The Ruler stopped, but did not stagger.  

Even as she tried to discern details of the man, she noticed a change in the Elite Guard.  Their swords no longer shone.  Some looked rusty, others looked no more than unworked pieces of metal.  But the biggest change was in the men themselves.  They looked normal, average height, average build; their usual presence, the power they had exuded for as long as she had known them, was no longer there.

The man advanced, and the Ruler turned, and motioned her forward.  

“Affein, the time has come.”  He pointed at the figure, now no more than a thirty lances in distance.  “Kill him.”  

She looked at the Ruler, and then back at the rest of the guard.  All had their swords drawn, and stood in battle formation.  A sorry-looking battle formation.  Affein was at a loss to explain what she was witnessing, but she had been trained almost from birth to follow orders, to obey the Ruler.  She drew her sword, and looked down at her forearm as her hand held the hilt.  

Her skin was smooth, her muscles sculpted under it.  She grabbed her axe, and used it to look at her reflection.  She looked no more than thirty winters, if that.  Her tunic was tighter, the leather underneath almost constraining her form.  She felt larger, powerful, . . . mighty.

“ . . . and end him.  Do not speak to him.”  The Ruler had been speaking to her, and he continued as she slowly became aware of his urgency. “You are our only hope.  The only hope for our way of life.  You have all our power channeled into you. Do not fail us.”

Affein focused, and her features hardened.   She could feel it.  She felt more alive, more capable than she’d ever felt.  “I will not let you down!”

She turned and strode toward the man.  He had drawn his sword, and was leaning on it, its point barely sunk into the packed road surface.  She looked at him as she approached.  As powerful as she felt, she kept a cool head.  She looked at his clothes; no leather under them.  She looked at his sword; it was polished, but no magic shone on its surface.  She looked at the man himself; maybe forty winters, although it was hard to tell.  He looked relaxed and somewhat amused as he watched her approach.  He stood a shade over a lance tall . . . he would have a reach advantage.  He looked fit, but not overly muscular.  They were even in that regard.  

She could not assess his fighting prowess, and if he channeled his magic she would be at the usual disadvantage.  The only chance she had was to take the offensive.  No more than six lances away, Affein charged.  She did not waste time with a battle yell.

She swung her sword as she neared, aiming slightly to his right, the side he was leaning on, and prepared to swing her axe when he blocked her sword.  Good plan . . . had he moved.  Her sword split the air a knife’s length from the man’s shoulder, and the momentum of the unchecked swing left her open to his sword, now raised.  She tried to twist from his killing blow, and her mind chilled at the realization she had failed her Ruler, her people.

She felt something on her shoulder . . . his hand gave a push, and she lost her balance.  Affein let herself fall, rolled a few times, making sure her own weapons did not cut her, and rolled upright a few lance-lengths from the man.  His back was to the Ruler and Guard, who were now advancing.  He glanced back at them, and they stopped.  

“They are lying to you”. His voice was deep, his tone as relaxed as his face.

Affein focused on his stance.  His sword once again was serving as a support staff for him to lean on.  This time she circled him, just out of sword reach.  She walked toward his sword side, so he would not be able to swing the sword at her; he would have to jab.  An easy parry, and a follow-through with the axe.

“It’s all you, you know.  They are not helping you in any way.”  His eyes followed her as she moved.  

She registered his words, but focused on her task.  No more all-out attacks.  This was to be a duel, and as long as he did not use magic, she was confident in her abilities to wrestle ultimate victory.  She lunged, and he easily parried her sword, but gave her no opening for her axe.  She continued pressing, waiting for an opening.  If she could draw blood, she would eventually prevail.  

She noticed that as they fought, the Guard were encircling them, but staying well out of reach.  The Ruler stood a distance away. They looked even worse, and the Ruler now looked like a man of well over sixty winters.  She felt the added vigor they were channeling to her at the expense of themselves; she would not let them down.

“What do you know of The Blood?”  The man asked.  He was doing little more than holding her at bay, and he did it with seemingly no effort.  “Not much, I wager.” He continued, pushing back one of her attacks.  “Let me tell you about them; they draw their power from the descendents of The Elders.  They are not transferring their power to you; they stopped drawing power from you.”  As he spoke he side-stepped one of her thrust, and slapped the back of her hand.  

She nearly dropped her sword, but managed to recover.  “Are you going to fight, or are you going to talk?”  She strove to remain calm, but her focus was losing ground to the frustration of not being able to even tax the man.  

“Ask yourself; why are they not using their magic on me?   I will tell you.“

He smiled, spread his hands a bit, and spoke “I don’t let them.”  

He then launched a lightning-fast attack.  She fell back, and stumbled at the edge of the road.  As she braced her fall, she was open to his sword.  

It stopped at her throat.  “You are pretty good.” He said. “With some proper training you could be really good.  Don’t try it!”.  The point of his sword pressed on her skin as she tried to bring her sword arm up.  She stopped.

“I have no quarrel with you.  You are not of The Blood, and furthermore, we are alike.  We are kin, destined to protect people from the very ones you serve.”  

He looked around at the circle of men who were drawing closer.  “They drained my mother of life, a fighter just like you.  They fed off of her for years, and she never knew.  They did it for their own benefit, to live a privileged life.  They used her strength against her, and to rule over others.  I aim to destroy them all.”  He looked down at Affein.

“If that were true, they could feed from the others.”  Her words carried the anger she felt at having failed.

“They provide some sustenance, but they are not like us.  They depend on us for protection.”  He glanced back at the closing circle of men.

“It’s dawning on them you won’t be able to defeat me.  They’ll start draining you, and your belief will allow it.  I won’t be able to help you.  You must help yourself!”  He pulled his sword from her throat, drew a short sword from his back, and turned to face the advancing men.

Now’s my chance!” She wanted to jump up and stab the man, but her strength had left her.  She could hardly lift her arm, let alone her sword.

The Elite Guard resembled their former selves.  Not in full battle mode, but fitter, abler.  Their swords held no shine, but they too looked better.  They attacked.

The stranger danced between the men, slashing, thrusting, parrying . . . three of the guards lay on the ground, unmoving.  The rest drew back a bit.  

“If you let them,” the man yelled, “they will drain you of life itself!”

As he spoke, Affein looked at her forearm . . . it looked as if that of an old woman, sagging, skin hanging loose, looking so thin as to be almost translucent.  Doubt crossed her mind.  A little doubt, to be sure, but the result was almost instantaneous.  The weight she could hardly support a moment ago was now no burden at all, and she sat up.  Could the stranger be right?  

As the thought crossed her mind, she felt vitality return to her.  Once aware of it, she felt the tug of something hungrily nipping at her will, at her strength.  He was right.  They were draining her!  At the realization, the suppressed frustration flooded her with fury.  She jumped up, sword on one hand, axe in the other.  

The guards were now falling back, rallying around the Ruler.  Affein looked at the man.  “What do we do?” she asked.

“We kill them.” 

It was not a fair fight.

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5 Comments to “The Blood”

    • Thanks. Re-reading it generated new ideas; a path of sorts for adding to the world and the story. Who knows; fantasy may turn out to be my thing. Well, probably not, but you never know (I could quote John Lennon, but everyone already knows it).

  1. Great piece. Makes me wonder where you got the idea from. I like the plot progression and the ending was really good. I will admit that the ending was a bit abrupt in the sense that if they killed all of them, the ruler included, it feels like the accomplishment of the main character was too easy. And it doesn’t give that normal feel of your work that makes me itch to find out what happens next.

    That being said I would love to get to read the outcome of ideas you got from a reread. Not to mention another story in the world. I really am intrigued by the world.

    Good job.

    • Ideas . . . the original idea was brewing for a while, and is somewhat rooted in my skepticism. However, the original idea fell by the wayside as I wrote this (as you might know, I am a seat-of-the-pants writer). Yes, that means the original idea is still a viable story, but a story for another day.

      The ending is a bit abrupt because my lunch is only one hour long, and it’s a “closed” ending because I was not planning to write more in this world.

      It was meant as a short stand-alone story, but as I said, prepping it for publication to this site got a bunch of other ideas for how it might progress. For one, these characters are fairly straight-forward (good and bad fairly clearly delineated), but the progression will find the lines blurring a bit. We’ll know more about The Blood, more about the descendants of The Elders, and eventually about the Elders themselves.

      I can’t wait to write it so I can read it.

      Thanks for commenting.

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