Arasunia. City of Sol.
Located on a mountain where nothing hampered the light of Sol, every corner and crevice of the city was illuminated in light while the day held.
And yet, even the strongest of light could not penetrate deep into the mountain itself,
Hurried footsteps echoed through the passageway, followed by even more footsteps and loud shouting.
“She’s getting away!”
The escaper was slowing down. Breathing was getting hard. Where was the exit?
“Get the legs!”
The bola flew true. Rope wound around the prisoner’s legs as the centrifugal force of the rocks carried them. Crashing heavily into the floor, the prisoner struggled vainly to rid the shackles. Pulling and tearing in a frenzy at the rope, thick lines too thick to slice through…
The men caught up, and she paused all movement as a her Master’s bamboo plated boots emerged into her sight.
“Look at me,” came the gravelly tones of her Master.
Her head tilted backwards, as their eyes met.
“Do you know what you have tried to do?” asked the Master.
The eyes. They could all see it. Defiant, unyielding, and angry. She refused to answer.
“You have betrayed my trust,” he continued, “despite everything I have done for you.”
“You ask for the impossible,” she rasped out.
He shook his head. “There is no such thing as the impossible, my apprentice,” he smiled slowly, “You should know that best.”
She stared at him unblinkingly. “And how do you expect me to win against the namesake of the gladiatorial arena?”
He knelt down to her level of eyesight, and sighed. “And how do you expect me to make a profit off of saving your life those years ago when you turned up on my doorstep?”
There was no answer.
“I took you in,” he said unblinkingly, “I clothed you and I fed you. I spared you the collar and helped develop your natural talents with the sword. And I only asked you for one thing: to fight in the arena and win.”
“You ask me to go to my death,” she said.
He raised an eyebrow, “Fight him tomorrow, and you win your freedom. We will part ways. ” He allowed a brief smile to flit across his face. “The Swiftblade has never lost a match to date, has she?”
She ignored his invoking of her given title.
“Neither has the Gladiator.”
The assembled men bowed in reverence as the leader of their group strode down to meet them. His cape billowed behind him like a living thing, as he looked up to find Sol in the sky.
The vice-captain went up to meet him, reporting, “The final match will proceed tomorrow as planned. An insider told us that the participant known as ‘Swiftblade’ initially refused, but then consented, and the match will proceed unhindered.”
The man did not pause for a moment in his stride. “The Church has ordered that all betting not overseen or taxed for Arasunia be terminated. We attack after we have evidence that this “arena” is doing illegal business.”
The men bowed respectfully, as the vice-captain bowed again in turn respectfully. Glancing up briefly, the silver glint of the captain’s famed weapon shone from his vantage point.
Everyone assembled knew; as long as heretics and people existed that disobeyed the Church, this man would hunt them down for all of eternity.
The lone figure did not move from his perch on the rock as the Summoner approached.
The Summoner was wary; he knew who he was approaching, knew his powers, and knew the dangers.
Except this one, could not be ignored.
He strode over and stood directly in front of the armored figure.
Gesturing around with his arms, he said to the figure, “There is no fighting. It is peaceful here. Why are you armored?”
There was silence. And then, “War will come.” The voice was raspy and old, as though it had not been used for many years.
“Quite a thing for someone to say, who has not moved from his vigil of this grave for so many years.”
Silence again. “How did you find me…?”
“Your diary. I found it.” The Summoner looked around. “Quite a place for her final resting ground, I must say.”
“Why are you here…?”
“As you said. War will come. I am here to bring your might with me.”
“I serve no one.”
“I would rather call it an exchange.”
“There is nothing you can give me.”
“Life, for one person.”
“I do not need life, all I need is…”
“Not for you. Her.”
“You serve the daemons.”
A short burst of laughter.
“Wrong. We simply have an agreement with each other. The same thing they are offering you.”
“You endanger my people. I should slay you, here and now.”
“They are not your people anymore. You left them, and they have a new leader.”
Another pause. “Is he…well?”
The Summoner’s voice was solemn. “He saved my life once.”
“And yet here you are, betraying him.”
“I served him for a long time. I consider myself free of my debt, and free to pursue my own desires. The same way you are now. You are free of your obligations to your people, and free to pursue your own wish.”
“Trusting daemons? That is not what I want.”
The Summoner took a step closer to the figure, and whispered, “You said so yourself: you do not need life. Rather than wait here for all eternity, and nothing to be changed, you should take a gambit and make the trade. You already have nothing to lose.”
The figure was silent. “What did you do with the diary…?”
“I resealed it where you hid it.”
“And so, you know the truth. You know the origins.”
“Yes,” replied the Summoner, “War made this world.”
“If I go, do I have your word that they will uphold their ends of the bargain…?”
The Summoner bowed, and said, “I too, have bargained with them. I have in my disposal a spell to make it binding for both sides. They will agree to the spell; after all, they have no reason to go against the bargain.”
“Hmph,” was the reply, “You are a sly one.”
“It is only a matter of precautions. Shall we?”
The Summoner waited. The figure at first did nothing. Then, slowly, the helmet was removed to reveal the haggard and old face, and the helmet was set atop the stone as the figure slid off of it in a rusty creaking of old armor.
The Summoner knew what he meant with the gesture. Warriors often said that the helmets were cradles of their lives; it was one of the most important things that ensured survivability. He was leaving his “life” with her.
Gesturing ahead, he said, “Please, follow me.”
And off they went. The Summoner did not even find the need to gaze where the helmet lay on top of; it was too obvious.
A raven watched the two leave, before hopping on top of the helmet. It had seen enough, and did not need to know what the helmet was covering. But it took one last look, knowing those runic symbols, before flying off with a flap of its wings.