Soul Swords An Original Story by Peregrine & DotCom It gives me strength to have somebody to fight for; I can never fight for myself, but, for others, I can kill. Emilie Autumn, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls She hadn't slept in two days, and she was no longer certain whether the buzzing in her head was excitement or delirium. In all likelihood, it was a slightly punch-drunk combination of the two. She'd stopped at an inn last night -- for directions, naturally -- but having grown up in a tavern made it easy to find free ale in even the stingiest of places. Roswyn grinned as the tall grasses that had concealed her from her prey thus far began to thin. It had been nearly an hour stooped over in the wheat-like stalks, dark hair catching on every half-grown frond in the entire bloody kingdom, but it appeared to have done the trick. She'd gained on the young warrior, and apparently without his knowledge. What it was he'd stopped to do, she couldn't begin to guess. He certainly hadn't seen fit to stop long enough for her to catch up in the previous fortnight, but then she wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Granted, Ros's catch-as-catch-can attitude had gotten her in trouble more than once. Fortunately, she was a skilled enough blade dancer that it didn't seem to matter. As if privy to her momentary self-congratulations, Gemini hummed in her hands, it's dark blade somehow catching what little sunlight streamed through the vaulted canopy the grasses weaved overhead. She resisted the urge to drive the tip of her soul sword into hard, dry earth, figuring she'd need it on her side entirely for the upcoming battle. If there was a battle. Oh, she hoped there were a battle. It had been SO LONG since her last dance, and the poor wretch had hardly even seemed aware of the weapon he'd possessed. She would gladly give her sword arm (or one of them) for the Emperor...but she'd been afraid, momentarily, at least, he'd continue to send her on children's errands until she grew too old to even wrap her fingers around Gemini's hilt. She'd met the Emperor at a younger age than most of his remaining runners. She'd been fourteen when she slew a man to make Ascension hers; the battle had nearly killed her, and upon its completion, she'd slept for several days. When she woke over a week later, she found herself in the Emperor's care -- though she'd called it capture then. She was bathed, fed, clothed, and healed, and when she was well, she was taken before the Emperor himself in better finery than she'd ever seen then or hence. He told her his spies had seen her skill with a blade, and because of her age as much as her gender, he had wanted to give her a chance to swear fealty to him. It was as kind as anyone had been to the wandering orphan in many, many years, and in that brief conversation, she learned more of soul sword lore than the erratic Gemini had ever shared. She swore fealty then and there, as much to save her life as to repay a debt. But over years, she discovered she had a knack for the work nearly as much as she loved it. She had never much liked sitting still. It made her feel vulnerable, antsy, exposed. Working for the Emperor allowed her to travel the world and force Gemini into relative obeisance. She uncovered her first three blades in an astonishing six months and had won Ascension back in no time. Nothing, she would soon discover, had ever felt so right. And she was eager to mount the crowning glory of her career with the capture the Emperor had been tracking for a long time now. He'd sent her off with strict orders -- and three swords, her most recent and practical Ursus besides. The bladed gauntlets hung heavy and firm on her wrists now, though with Ascension's miniscule weight on her back, she hardly noticed. Again, though, that may have been the beginnings of a battle fever coming over her. Between Gemini's severity and Ascension's quickness, she had no doubt she could spring from the last dredges of the veritable grass sea to take the young swordsman crouched in the glen now. But there was no honor in that. No fun, either. Tensed down to her booted toes, Ros stepped from the grass, groaning in ecstasy as she finally straightened to an impressive five-foot-nothing. She allowed her spine to pop almost lazily, though her stance was anything but. Like Ascension, she took a keen pleasure in making people think she was less than she was. She slung Gemini over one shoulder and cocked her head to look at the rogue. Cute, certainly. Nothing she couldn't handle. She smiled charmingly at him, gray eyes flashing. "The others usually give up about here," she said lightly. "Do tell me you'll make this fun?"