Soul Swords

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  1. 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?"
  2. "Just go sober up. Preferably somewhere far away from here," the barman said, bodily shoving Keyrn the rest of the way out of the door. Keyrn stumbled, barely catching himself on the door-frame before he would have landed face-first in the dirt. However, when the barman went to slam the door closed Keyrn was forced to withdraw his finger, which sent him toppling to the ground.

    He wasn't a bad man, the barkeep. Better than some, that was for sure. He had willingly offered Keyrn drinks all through the day, taking it on faith that the poorly dressed traveler would be able to pay. He had been able to pay, but that was entirely beside the point. It was nice when someone showed him a little bit of faith. Keyrn was a happy drunk, and he tottered to his feet, a broad grin plastered on his face. it had been a long time since he had actually been thrown out of a bar, and though the little shove barely counted as a throw, to his intoxicated mind it was more than enough. It was a shame that most of the patrons within the bar had not agreed with his liveliness. He would have liked to be able to stay a little longer, swallow a few more drinks, finish flirting with the pretty lady who had wandered in and almost seemed ready to dance with him.

    At least the man had been willing to refill his bottle before throwing him out. Keyrn lifted up the gourd, and splashed a generous quantity of an amber colored liquid into his mouth. He swallowed, before exhaling happily. It took him a bit of time to work his way to his feet, and even longer to make it more than a few steps without falling down. But finally the town was behind him, and his feet were starting to steady under him. The world still swayed pleasantly around him, and he paused every few minutes to take another swig from his rapidly draining bottle. But his feet seemed to have figured out how to walk in a swaying line, so that his progress through the wobbling world was mostly linear.

    Irithil pointed out the person following him a few hours later. He shushed the blade impatiently, disappointed that it would believe, even in his intoxicated state, that he wouldn't notice that he was being tailed. It faded back, vibrating ashamedly, but Keyrn calmed it with a warm chuckle and another swig from his bottle. There was hardly a mouthful left anymore, but even a few drops were better than nothing.

    It wasn't uncommon to have a traveler mirror your footsteps for days at a time. There weren't many roads, and many of them led to many places. Sometimes you could travel just behind or in front of a person long enough that you wound up becoming friends in the silence, even if you never spoke. It was when a person went out of their way to conceal themselves that you knew you were being followed. And you knew that the person was looking for a fight.

    He couldn't say that he knew much about the person who was following him. He didn't look well enough off to be a target for a mugging. His clothes were travel-stained, and he had nothing of any value on his presence. there were better targets than him. That meant that the person stalking him either had a bone to pick with him personally, or was after his swords.

    Keyrn hadn't really gone out of his way to hide his presence over the last several months. He had gotten into more fights than he could count, some just for the fun of the challenge, some of them far more deadly. If someone wanted to find him, it wouldn't take that much effort. Honestly, it was a surprise that the Emperor hadn't sent someone after him sooner, with all the chaos he had been causing. He was a wanted target, someone that the Emperor knew would never fall into line. That meant he had to be eliminated.

    Hopefully the Emperor had sent his best. And hopefully his best actually meant something. Because Keyrn had no plan of cooperating. The emperor was a cowardly man, so afraid of the power of the world that he would try and contain it rather than face it. No predecessor had ever dared to issue a law that touched the soul swords. They were the ultimate power in this world. Trying to contain them was like trying to find a way to contain violent gods. But the Emperor had allowed his fear to rule him, and he was no longer worthy of his seat.

    The grass was an unexpected soft patch in the field of sharp-bladed wheat. He paused, tried to drink some more, but found his bottle empty. With a resigned sigh, he flopped himself down into the grass, relishing its cool feel against his back. It was time to see what this stranger following him wanted.

    She was brash, that was for sure. Perhaps she underestimated him, not taking the chance to kill him at a long-range "sneak" attack. Perhaps she was simply drunk on blood. Whatever her reason, if she wanted to fight him, he would certainly oblige. But there was no reason to make this easy on her.

    He opened his eyes blearily at her words, and blinked a few times. He sat up, placing a hand on his head. "Darlin'," he drawled, eyes dropping slightly. It took him two tries to get to his feet, and when he was standing he staggered to the side. "Why don't ya come join me, lovely?" He lifted up his empty bottle, and tried to take another sip from it. Finding it empty, he let it fall with a frustrated grunt.
  3. Ros blinked in surprise, then laughed abruptly, all without letting her guard down, though she wasn't particularly anxious. She'd heard this man had dismantled more than a few of the Emperor's attempts to bring him in. She knew of his skill with a sword -- his skill with a bottle, however, was news to her. Pity she'd have to disarm him. She liked a man who could drink. This one in particular. At least there'd be something to look at on the way back to the Emperor's fortress.

    "Not exactly the kind of fun I meant, but I suppose an offer is nice," Ros said good naturedly, simultaneously allowing the dark-haired fool one more chance at surrender, or at the very least, arm himself. He was carrying a good number of blades on him, and Ursus had already warned her of those she couldn't see. But liquor tended to temper the blade more often than not. Besides, it really was a shame to have to muss that pretty face.

    She waited another beat, then unsheathed Gemini lazily, almost cautiously. "Don't suppose you're interested in coming with, then? Very well. If this goes quick, we'll be sure to stop by your tavern on the way back. I'll let you buy me a victor's ale."

    She lunger forward with all the easy grace of a swan, so quick and light, her soft boots hardly left a mark on the grass. Gemini had been a two-handed sword once, but after bonding itself to her, Ros's grip on it's dark half was easy, her weight riding cleaning behind the thrust of her dominant arm.
  4. Nevermore appeared in his hands as she launched her attack, the green blade glowing with apparent excitement. What it was really glowing with was remonstration. It had not been to happy about his choosing to get drunk, even if it was an out-of-the-way little town where no one of any real worth should be able to find him. Keyrn merrily shoved Nevermore's complaints away, and focused in on the lunge.

    He let her get in a little bit closer than he normally would have, so close that had he not trusted to his own ability there was a very good chance it might have actually connected. But, only an instant before it was too late, Nevermore flicked out, its green tip cleanly re-directing her thrust and sending the blade a half inch to his right. This opened her up to his counter, and he twisted his left hand forward, sending two of Nevermore's three whips flicking out. They wrapped around her shoulders, and Keyrn twisted to the side, pulling her forward. He crouched down, allowing her forward momentum to send her flipping over him and onto the ground.

    He stepped back quickly, his steps still somewhat wobbly. She really wasn't bad, right now it seemed that pride was her only disadvantage. She underestimated him, or overestimated her own ability. Perhaps both. She was going to have to try a lot harder if she wanted a straight thrust to connect with him.

    Of course, he hadn't hurt her. Not really. There might be a cut on her shoulder, Nevermore's whips were sharp, no matter how careful he was. But the ground couldn't have done that much damage to her. She could be up any time she wanted. Hopefully she would be a little more clever about her attack this time.
  5. His skill was well apparent even before she struck the ground. It was not ease with which he moved, nor the the simple grace with which he shoved Gemini's blade, though that spoke for him as well. It was the thoughtless grace with his he summoned his own blade to hand. That sort of grace would have been enviable were Ros someone who considered herself capable of envy, and was something she had seen only once before.

    While she did not appreciate being so plainly or easily dismantled, she was quite surprised, thrilled, even, at the aspect of a challenge. All things considered, Ros much preferred drinking and swordplay to actual violence, and this man she was meant to take back seemed a convenient combination of both. She studied him as her backed away from her, still unsteady on his feet, half fascinated, half looking for her next in. Brute force would not be the way to win this battle, but she so rarely got to make a game of it, she didn't mind all that much.

    "Oh, good," she said, managing to keep almost all the bitterness out of her voice as she found her feet again and began to circle closer. "I can't tell you how nice it is to have to work at this for a change. For all I've done for him, you'd think the Emperor would trust me to be half way decent with a blade...let alone a man with a decent blade." She smiled, highlighting her freckles in an almost childish way. "If you know what I mean."

    It was clear he was waiting for her to attack again. Whether that was fear, boredom, or something stranger, she couldn't say, and didn't particularly care. Roswyn had always been a strong swordswoman, but her greatest downfalls were her pride and impatience. Waiting at anything, in particular, battle, seemed a torture worse than death.

    She drew forward again, closing in quickly once more, though pulling to the right this time, Gemini poised to strike. She had just drawn near enough, almost too near, even, when Gemini vanished from her left hand to her right. She through herself behind her left arm as that gauntlet she wore there became Ursa Major, Ursus's more powerful half, humming through the air to rend the exposed flesh of the swordsman's belly.
  6. He watched her get up with a lopsided smile on his face, his head tilted slightly to the side and Nevermore loosely clasped in his right hand. He didn't bother to respond to her comment, only spreading his grin by a couple of extra molars. She was going to attack him again, missing the fact that in throwing herself towards him she left herself wide open to his counters. A part of him was wondering why he didn't just finish her off. Watching the way she walked he knew she had more than one blade, presumably two or three. Also well aware that she was certainly one of the emperor's dogs, it would make sense to kill her and make sure that those three blades never went back to the clutches of the emperor.

    But something held him back from that. Some unexplained instinct that caused him to recognize an untapped potential within her, something that could be developed far beyond a loyalty to the emperor. Add that to Nevermore's quiet promptings not to kill her, that she could be useful, and he let her stand.

    So when she lunged forward again he read carefully through her movements. She wouldn't be stupid enough to believe that something that had failed so badly before would work the second time around. That meant that attack had to be a feint, because he was almost certain that she was not smart enough, or rather didn't believe him smart enough, to believe he would have already read through her movement. But it would not pay to underestimate her as she had underestimated him. She was looking to kill, not to humiliate or incapacitate. One stupid mistake might be his last.

    And so he countered both potential attacks by the expedient measure of dropping to the ground, one leg bent under him, the other stretched out in front of him. Nevermore vanished as he opened his hands, and he firmly placed both palms on the dirt. He glanced at her legs for a split second before spinning on his base foot. His other leg whipped violently around, aiming directly for her shins. Most sword-fighters forgot all about sweeping, and it therefore became one of the most useful techniques. He bounded lightly to his feet as soon as he had completed the sweep, and moved backwards. He almost tipped to the side but caught himself, and then returned his attention to his grounded victim. He spread his arms out slightly to the side, clearly asking "What next?"
  7. She had not been with Ursus long, but the quiet and serious blade was already humming a warning not to let her temper get the best of her before she hit the ground. How it had known Ros had a temper to begin with, she couldn't guess. She was, nine times out of ten, a pleasant, if somewhat cocky girl, more interested in sharing bawdy jokes and spirits than blood. She was, however, remarkably pride, and when something unseated that pride, she had no way to temper her...dissatisfaction. That she, the Emperor's best, was in a losing battle against a drunk certainly didn't help things.

    She had fallen hard, and her palms buzzed under an eighth of an inch of damp earth. Gemini had vanished at the last moment, and Ursus's gauntlets had saved her from a sprained wrist or worse. Though truthfully at that moment, one or both of them might have impaled her, and she wouldn't have noticed, so hot was her rage.

    Who was this uppity young man? She smug delight in his eyes made her want to reach down his throat and pull his manhood through his mouth. Roswyn's jaw ached with the tension held there, and she felt both hands fist beneath her, breaking blades of grass between her fingers.

    There was another thing, something Ursus could not know, something even Ascension knew naught of, and something Gemini did not speak of. The man stood over her, drunk and weaving and grinning, and for a second Ros was not in that bloody glen, but somewhere very far away indeed, and much younger. The man standing over her was the same, his hands spattered in her blood, his breath rank with the smell of ale, his trousers undone and falling to his knees, and Ros weak and bleeding too badly to run, to fight anymore --

    She was on her feet without realizing it, and so didn't have any sort of plan at all. Ursus was now humming its displeasure quite loudly, but Ros wouldn't have heard much if the earth had rent itself in two between her feet. She didn't even realize Gemini wasn't in her hands until she was rushing the arrogant swordsman again, and only managed to recover the blade at the last moment. Gone was the delight from her gray eyes. There was no pride or calculation here anymore, just anger, and a strong desire to kill.
  8. The rage was almost visible in her eyes. It was certainly visible in her stance, or rather her lack of one. Hosts can be so unreliable, he crooned teasingly to his blades, two of whom had the decency to laugh, the rest just ignoring it as more of their master's foolishness. But it was foolishness. She didn't even have a blade in hand. Had her little trips down to the earth taught her nothing? Apparently so, because she didn't manage to summon her blade until she was almost on top of him.

    Keyrn didn't even bother to re-summon his own blade. He simply stepped into and around her attack, and slugged her right in the face with his fist. He brought his back leg forward, once more sweeping her feet out from under her. Once more he moved back, although this time a lot of the bounce had gone out of his step. This was just getting irritating. In all likelihood she wasn't going to realize she was beaten, even now. Keyrn was getting tired of this fight, and was about ready for her to give up on it. He didn't want to kill her, not really. But press him much further, and he might just have to.
  9. There was no thought at all this time between Ros finding herself on the ground and staggering to her feet, though this was by far the longest period of time she had spent on the ground. She sat, dazed for several moments, as if having forgotten where she was and how she'd gotten there. She only knew she was very, very angry.

    When at last her head cleared and her vision forced together the triplicate images of everything before her, gray eyes swept up to the man before her, clouded with ire and loathing. The bruise forming on her cheek throbbed in time with her racing heart, and her knees and backside whispered quiet protestations. All three blades had join in the plea that she surrender and the swordsman might spare her. Even Ascension, a blade crafted for adventure and endurance, was screeching unheeded warnings to Ros to stay down, that she was beaten and further stubbornness might well cost her her life and blades.

    But Ros couldn't hear them over the buzzing in her ears and the pounding of her heart in her chest. She knew only rage, and, deeper down, fear that she would be once beaten and subdued and worse. Even stricken as she was, Ascension made her graceful, so she was standing well before she was ready, dizzy and weaving slightly, and completely uncaring as she stumbled forward. She had neither plan nor sword, and wasn't even thinking to kill the man standing before her, really. There was only anger and its target, and no witty recourse as she lurched forward for a final time.
  10. A part of him was furious when she stood back up again, but most of him was simply resigned. Had she ever lost before? Yes, she probably had, but it had been a very long time ago. He looked at her through the old eyes of Nevermore, and saw a confident young woman afraid to fall back into the fearful child she had once been.

    He could hear one of the blades inside of him, screaming and cursing at him to take her life. She was weak, pathetic, unprepared, vulnerable, the perfect target. Keyrn was only able to shut it up by reminding it that, if he killed her, it would have two, probably three new blades to deal with. That at least succeeded in shutting the blade up, if not removing the malevolent pressure upon Keyrn, ordering him to send her to the afterlife. It was easy enough to ignore, and he felt one of his blades slip between himself and the pressure, lightening, almost completely removing, its pressure upon his mind.

    What was he going to do with her? She was drawing closer, and there was no way she was going to submit halfway between where she was now, and where he was standing. If he could get away with only a small beating, he might even have taken that option. Sweet Irithil would be able to heal the wounds within a couple minutes. But every line of her body radiated intent to kill. That was what he would have to offer back.

    He lifted Nevermore gracefully, placing the blade's razor sharp point at her throat. And this time he spoke, although the message had not changed. "What now?"
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  11. If it had been up to her, Ros might have continued her assault, oblivious to the stopping blade, or simply not caring it was there. It was a foolish action, one that would have undoubtedly ended her life, and completely born of anger and pride, as were all such rash decisions.

    Were it not for the staying power of her own blades, she might even have done so. She was halted at the last moment by Gemini's stark loyalty, Ursus's cool foresight, and Ascension's grace, allowing her to freeze where she was, dancing on the edge of cold steel at her neck.

    She knew the blade was there, could nearly feel it countering the pulse of life-giving blood below her chin, but she didn't look down at it. Her gaze held the swordsman's, her eyes as cold and hateful as the peak of a winter's storm. It was hate, she realized, or near enough. Roswyn didn't hate much, but she did hate to lose, and lose she had. And to lose in such a manner! To a glorified drunk who'd not even pulled a second blade...

    She felt her entire body tense as what little remained of her self-control fought against her senseless anger. Another strike, another movement who see her dead in a moment, and even that seemed a decent price to pay, if only she could lay a hand on this arrogant son of a whore. Her hands fisted and her face flushed, but she didn't move, even as the swordsman finally spoke again.

    The corners of her mouth turned up into a cold, bitter smile as his words fell over her ears, and she turned her chin, carefully, slowly, to spit out the gob of blood in her mouth, all without taking her eyes from him.

    "Says the man with the sword to my throat," she growled after a moment. "'What now?' indeed. You've clearly figured out what I want, and you're clearly not going to give it to me. If you except me to walk away, you're sadly mistaken. I'll complete my mission or die, rebel. And I'll warn you, I've heard I've the head of a bull and the heart of a mule. This will not be the last you see of me or the Emperor's men. If you wish things to be easy, you'll surrender, or you'll kill me now."

    A thought seemed to occur to her, and her smile widened to reveal blood-stained teeth. "You may as well finish it, then. I've nothing to stop you." Again without moving, still pressed to the edge of his blade, she lifted her hands to show empty palms. "Unarmed as they come. Easy for you. Go on, then. That's a man if ever I've seen one."
  12. His smile was nearly as mocking as her tone. "Had I wanted you dead," he replied his head tilting to the side, and the drawl that had suffused his tone carefully abolished, "you would have been dead after your very first attack." He was still undoubtedly drunk, but this was a moment when careful words were probably for the best. Saying a silent goodbye to the buzz in the back of his head and the handful of wasted gold, he asked Irithil to get rid of the poison in his bloodstream. He felt her quickly begin to comply, but at the same time the muscles holding Nevermore in place against her throat stood out through his skin. Of course it would be her who got in the way of Marolltach's killing intent. But the blade was not so powerful that it could overcome him if he did not wish to be overcome. Especially when Nevermore was the blade in his hands.

    "You say they will never stop coming, those assassin's after my life?" he mused. "Probably true. But it would be interesting to have some help." He twisted Nevermore in his hand, drawing its point within a millimeter of the exposed flesh on her neck. "I've never been one for easy," he continued in that same musing tone. Normally he would have been studying her, looking for the tiny, almost infinitesimal flickers in her expression that would have revealed her innermost thoughts. There was no need for such complications now. Her emotions were easy to read.

    "Say, you want your chance to kill me? Let's make a deal, huntress. Or, better yet, let's make a contract." How badly did she want to kill him? She was already prepared to die, but dying by the blade was very different from the death that came when all soul swords unbound themselves from you, leaving your soul to tear itself apart and scatter to the breeze. Was she angry enough to risk everything for the chances to kill him?
  13. She felt her body going rigid with anger, so tense, she could have sworn she would crack and shatter or at the very least seriously hurt herself, and she began to wonder whether it was possible she could get any angrier. Possibly. Probably. She hadn't yet reverted to blind attacks again, but her fingers ached with a longing to call Gemini. The blade would come, she knew, though not happily. Her first blade was also her most loyal and condescending. It would see her actions here today as childish and petty, and for that, she hated the blade. It so often vacillated between honor and blood lust, she could never tell which it was going to be, save for remonstrative at every turn.

    Ursus, for its part, had fallen begrudgingly silent, apparently not seeing the proffered 'deal' as Ros's only method of survival. Why it cared when the blade was hardly loyal, she could only guess. It had, for whatever reason, taken on some modicum of possessiveness over her, which she guessed was a fine enough way for a blade to feel, at least as long as its purpose was to protect her life.

    Only Ascension had ceded itself to her will, and even then with an unusual tang of caution. Perhaps it sensed, as did Ros, that whatever deal was offered would provide more bounds. There were few who hated rules and restrictions more than Ros, despite her love for the Emperor. He had been the one to give her purpose and life, who provided the outlet for her to become her own protector and savior. Would this cocky stranger offer such paradoxical freedom?


    And yet a few moment's careful breathing found her ready to listen, at the very least, if not to obey. A chance to kill the man who had fought her for the sole chance of humiliation? Provided his wish was not antithetical to the Emperor's, she need only exercise patience.

    Small mercies.

    "What?" she growled finally. "I'd sooner you kill me than make me your dog, boy. Or can you promise a death sweeter than the loss of a blade?"
  14. Boy? A small pant of laughter slipped from between his lips, but he responded with a carefully controlled leer, just suggestive enough to be downright annoying. Did she really think such taunts would have any affect on him? Clearly so. Well, best to keep her believing so. For now. And best to keep her enraged as well.

    "Dog?" he asked innocently. "No I wasn't thinking anything like... that." He moved in a little closer, leer still firmly in place.

    "Here's the deal, precious. You are free to try and kill me, whenever you please. In whatever manner you please. But, during the time that you are trying to kill me, you are not allowed to willingly leave my presence. And should I die by anyone's hands but yours, the contract will be broken." He moved back, Nevermore still firmly in place, not having shifted even a touch as he moved around her. "Of course, the rules will be more complicated than that. I don't want you thinking that there are any loopholes out of it, such as ordering someone else to kill me counting as me dying by your own hands. But that is the... gist of it.

    "What do you say? 'Sweet' enough for you?"
  15. Ros thought she might have screamed if only she could breathe. Her mind felt as though it had over-heated and shut down, able only to spit out half words, none of which bespoke agreement, or even any kind of sense.

    Arrogant, stuff-shirted, whoremonger, can't even...ought to...bloody...hand...

    He was toying with her. Angering her on purpose, and the thought that he was succeeding did less than nothing to cool her temper. It was a moment before she realized she was trembling, violently enough that a more sane person might have been concerned she'd end her own life at the end of his blade, anyway. But Ros had forgotten the blade entirely. Forgotten his blade and her own, and the grassy clearing and the Emperor and his sentence. For those single, short moments, nothing existed but Ros and her captor. There was no other word for him now (or at least none she hadn't already said). Even as she stood there trying to calm her breathing and force a semblance of peace, for her sake, if not his, she knew she would be taking the deal offered. She could not, even if she wanted to, return to the Emperor empty-handed. It would be easy to die. Refuse his contract, attack him again. She had no doubt, however it may have hurt her pride, that he could kill her before she'd even summoned Gemini. And while death had seemed a soothing balm a few moments before, she knew she could not possibly give up the ghost without seeing this self-important bastard rebel blood her own blade.

    Nor would she stand by while another took the kill that so rightly belonged to her. No. He may have become her master, but she had no plans to play at compliance. His will would force her to serve, to protect, but only until she could best him. And she suddenly knew no other goal, not even the Emperor's, had ever been so important.

    "Plenty sweet," she said finally, and she didn't bother to keep the hatred from her voice. There were no secrets here -- and had forced her into a contract, and she loathed him for it. But it was a contract with an agreeable enough end, provided she acted soon. Any more than a week in this jackanapes's presence, and she was certain she'd be begging for her own death, if not his.

    The blade stood still at the end of her throat and she finally saw fit to acknowledge its presence. Her own blades reacted to her decision in any number of ways, from Ascension's resigned disappointment, to Ursus's relieved approval. Gemini had said nothing yet, which was more than alright with her. She had other things to despise at the moment.

    She still had not relaxed, though she no longer thought he was going to kill her. She gestered to the blade at her neck. "May we move along now?"
  16. His smile was surprisingly sweet, especially considering he was a rebel leader, and had been considering murdering the young woman before him with little more than a second thought. He released Nevermore, and the blade vanished even as it began to fall from her neck. The alcohol was almost completely purged from his system, and he steadily walked a little ways away from her, before seating himself on the ground, and flopping backwards into the grass. It was an almost exact imitation of the position she had found him in just a few minutes ago, although this time the lazy smile was missing from his face, and his eyes were open and intense.

    A contract was a serious matter to the swords, which meant those people attempting to make it had to take it very seriously as well. It was primarily dangerous to the one bound by the contract, because if she broke it all the soul swords in her possession at the time the contract was made would be forced to abandon her. But he had also heard many a horror story about contracts that had turned wrong for the one doing the binding due to a single misspoken word. Keyrn had gotten Nevermore to explain contracts in great detail when he was quite young, and the normally reserved blade had been surprisingly willing to share the intricacies of contract making to him. At the time Keyrn had believed that Nevermore had some ulterior motive in telling him. Of course, now he knew that for sure, but he also knew that the ulterior motive was almost certain not directed at wounding him.

    He allowed his eyes to flutter closed so that he could devote all of his attention to the contract. For a brief moment his attention turned back to the Emperor's woman, whose name he still did not know. That could come later. With him lying here, eyes closed, before the contract had been constructed, let alone completed, gave her the perfect chance to attempt to break it before it fully began. Most likely her pride was holding her in place, but there was also a chance she was sneaking up on him to complete her task. Or, perhaps, even slinking away. Best to make sure that she wasn't planning anything foolish.

    "If you want to run away before I finish," he drawled lazily. "Now would be the perfect moment. I probably wouldn't even bother to get up and chase you." He doubted she had actually been considering that option, even before he said anything. But when it came to women, it was better to be safe than sorry. In that same line of thinking he directed his attention to Thaltheur, a small blue blade he had gained several years back. He set the guarding blade, surprisingly similar to her own wrist cuffs, to watching after him. Then he pulled Nevermore and Valkyrie, his two oldest blades, towards him. He felt Marolltach begin to press its way forward again, but politely blocked the blade's advances. The blade was fuming again, completely and totally frustrated by its inability to take control of him. However, Keyrn continued to block it until he felt the blade begin to retreat. He lightened up his blocking, and, after extracting a promise from the blade to behave itself, allowed it into the conversation. Irithil would join him as soon as it had finished cleaning up the effects of the alcohol. With Thaltheur occupied by watching the huntress, that only left Sulmasc. His newest blade, and the only blade entirely uninterested in what he did. Even if Keyrn attempted to drag the blade into conversation it would only remain perfectly silent.

    The four worked together over the next five minutes, fleshing out the basics of the contract, and then each of them running over every element to work out the details. There was a very good chance it would be the most unnecessarily intricate contract the huntress had ever received, but Keyrn was not one to take unnecessary chances.

    He stood up with all the grace of a dancer, and walked his way back over to his new companion. He stuck out a hand, the agreement to the contract as well as an introduction. "Name's Keyrn," he told her, perfectly expressionless.
    #16 Peregrine, Jan 18, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2014
  17. Ros looked down at the proffered hand with the same sort of expression one might adopt having happened upon the rank and maggot-ridden corpse of a crow. Provided, of course, said crow had first taunted its finder, then died having released its bowels over that person's head. And perhaps insulted the person's mother. All before resurrecting just to snub the onlooker.

    She stared for a moment, then looked up to meet the swordsman's eyes, her expression of utmost loathing having circled around to consume itself and give its wearer a sense of ennui. She blinked once, idly wondering whether she could draw Gemini quickly enough to sever his hand. It seemed unlikely, and it might well kill her. But even a bruise on the offending person would make her feel better.

    She had stood quite still while he deliberated the terms of the new contract, half rigid with anger, half curious and perhaps a bit apprehensive. She'd never understood the science -- if it could even be called that -- of the sword contracts, and none of the blades she'd had long enough to speak to had ever been able to explain it. Gemini had tried, but Ros's short attention span made that venture useful, and it had gone off fuming at her immaturity for days after. Ros was much more like to speak to and listen to Ascension, if only because they shared the same thoughtless concern for rules and boundaries. And Ursus was still entirely too stoic to say much of anything that wasn't 'nay'.

    Even so, she knew contracts were a leading cause (outside of herself and the Emperor's less loyal dogs) of death in those who bore Soul Swords. Something about the complications of words and loyalty...She wasn't sure. After having sworn herself to the Emperor, it had never seemed important to glean the specifics.

    And now here she was, standing beaten and irate, ready to sell herself to a traitor to the kingdom, all in the hopes that he might give her the chance to kill him. Slowly. What would happen now that she was bound under two contracts? She was less worried about her life than she was about her freedom. The Emperor's contract, to her knowledge, had been fairly simple. He trusted her, and she him. All there was to do was bring back the men and women who would not bend the knee. Or, when that failed, their blades. She was given free reign of the country, and allowed Gemini. It had seemed more... a scavenger hunt than a job or mission.

    But now? The two contracts were in some sort of conflict, she was sure. She just couldn't see how yet, and hopefully, the swords wouldn't, either. She didn't know exactly what happened when a contract was broken, but she knew it was bad. The swords were relinquished. The wielder usually ended up dead. Ros had faced her own death enough times not to be unduly afraid of the latter...but heaven forbid she died before laying the hurt on the arrogant swordsman before her.

    Keryn indeed.

    She stared at him a moment longer, gray eyes blank and hard, consulting with her own blades. All she needed was a way out, a promise that she could kill the traitor and return to the Emperor, blades intact. Ascension bubbled it was most certainly possible, there was a loophole somewhere. Gemini offered loyalty and little else, which, considering its affectations half the time, was as good as she was going to get. And Ursus begged compliance and wariness, a warning for which Ros was in no mood.

    Finally, she exhaled, half defeated, half resigned, and extended her hand. Her palms were caked with dirt and blood. There was a bruise on one shoulder from the other blade's whips. But aside from her pride, she'd come away from the brief battle alive, so perhaps there was that much to be grateful for.

    Or not.

    "Wonderful," she said drily, shaking his hand as firmly as she dared. Her first step, she figured, was to at least begin to conceal her feelings. The rage had only just begun to cool, but she had already learned passion and anger were not the ways to best the rebel. She would never be called cool or collected. But she could take away a foothold by making herself as enigmatic as he was. Or nearly.

    Starting, she supposed, with her name.
  18. Keyrn took her silence in stride, and as soon as Nevermore confirmed that, yes, the contract had been completed, he turned his back on her and began to walk away. His pace was leisurely, and he still swayed from side to side on the path, even though all alcohol had been purged from his system a few minuted ago. It was more fun that way, moving with the wind like an overlarge blade of grass. Despite the seriousness of his goal, Keyrn was in no hurry to complete it. It wasn't so much that he believed things might sort themselves out before he completed them as it was this extra time had little impact. Things never changed unless there was someone there to change them. And he knew well enough that he was the only true rebel of any impact. The knowledge that everything rested upon his shoulders weighed him down, but he did his best to take it in stride. Most commonly this manifested as an apparently deep apathy, while truly it was simply a way for him to conceal his own raging emotions, even from himself. That was part of the reason he was so deadly in a fight. All that stored up movement and passion came out in one blinding instant, usually leaving whomever he was standing against bleeding on the ground.

    This girl was the exception to that rule. Still, he felt comfortable turning his back on her because he knew she was still missing something. He could see it in her expression. Maybe it was simply that she hadn't cooled down enough to actually look at even the basics of the contract. She believed him a monster, so his contract must be the most monstrous thing in existence. But she did not need any loophole to kill him. In fact, the completion of the contract demanded his death. That didn't mean that he wouldn't leave Thaltheur on guard. She could figure it out at any point, and then his normally peaceful travels would be completely disrupted.

    But, in all honesty, that was a welcome change. The emperor's decree for the capture of all soul swords had come out ten years ago, and the rebel force was only just starting to come together. Nevermore had told him repeatedly that he needed to start moving, or the forces he had gathered together would start to crumble away. He had replied that, when the moment was right, he would know it. And he would be ready.

    Was she his moment? It was too soon to tell. No doubt Nevermore had all kinds of plans formulating about this emperor's dog, but Keyrn had saved her on an honest whim. She was interesting, and, with a little bit of training, could become a truly remarkable swordsperson. Of course, she would never accept his direct training. That was at least one thing that he and Nevermore agreed on completely. He was going to have to be clever with her. He was also going to have to make sure that she didn't get good enough to kill him before figuring out how to get into her heart. He felt Marolltach's indignation at that thought, but pointed out that it was entirely possible. The blade replied with an abstract threat of taking that as a reason to transfer away, which Keyrn simply ignored. That blade had put too much effort into him to just give up now. Corruption was its nature, and it wouldn't believe that it was unable to corrupt one human.

    He trusted to the contract to keep his new companion close to him. She would start feeling a tug in his direction if he got too far away, and that, if nothing else, would prompt her to catch back up. Hopefully she would bother to look over the contract soon. Her attacks would certainly make things a lot more interesting. And it might even spur him to action.
    #18 Peregrine, Jan 20, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2014
  19. She'd never been clear on what exactly happened when a soul sword contract was broken, but she swallowed her pride and made herself follow just in case immediate ramifications included death and disembowelment. Both of which Ros was quite sure she could have handled, if only it gave her the chance to do away with this uppity rebel coward then and there, waiting be damned.

    Of course, that was not an option, even if it was worth the attempt, and it wasn't yet. She'd have to sift through the finer points of the contract eventually -- now all she knew was she was a human shield for the man who called himself Keryn -- but for now, she understood attacking again would only lead to more anger and humiliation on her end. And if she got any angrier, she was going to do some brash and stupid. More stupid than attacking a swordsman whose skill level far surpassed her own.

    Fortunately, she wasn't expected by the Emperor any time soon. It had only been about two weeks since she'd set out to find her rebel, and the Emperor had warned before she left (wisely, apparently) that she take her time. He'd lost men before in sending out his dogs with callous haste. Of course, those were the men whose swords Ros eventually found and turned over, so what did she have to fear from a swaggering, self-absorbed idiot?

    Which came full circle back to the humiliation.

    Her anger had burned itself down to a sort of muted smoldering. She was in no mood for niceties or whistling, but she no longer felt angry enough to attack at random, so she forced herself to lift her eyes and study his silhouette in the light. There wasn't all that much to see. The rugged charm he'd carried before had been marred by his arrogance. Now he was just a man, and one with nothing to drink, so where was the fun in that? Ursus's intuition told her he carried a great many more blades than the one that had nearly taken her life, and she supposed she was coolly curious about those, but asking would mean a conversation she didn't particularly want to have. So, instead, she remained quiet -- normally a great feat of strength and self-control for Ros -- and trudged along behind her new travel companion, the very picture of a pouting child.

    After a few minutes' silence, Gemini sent up a cautious and uncommonly gentle question: Where were they going? Why, and for how long?

    Still moody, Ros replied the best way she knew how: I don't know, I don't know, shut up. Ascension and Ursus were quiet, the latter working out the details of the swordsman's contract on its own, its motivation still quite unclear to Ros, who didn't much care for new acquaintances, anyway.

    Ursus was confused as well, though for different reasons. The contract laid out by the mysterious swordsman was simple, if not clear. Ros need only do away with him at her own hand to fulfill her end of the contract. Otherwise, she was his guard and protector (or at least, his assistant) until her task was done. Should the man meet his end at someone else's sword point, however...

    Well, he'd certainly found a way to wriggle beneath Ros's skin. While the new contract offered no necessary breach of the old -- in fact, they ran alongside each other rather nicely -- the former bound Ursus's new mistress to the swordsman until she could kill him. Why the stranger had made such an arrangement, Ursus couldn't guess. It had known many handlers in its time, roughly apathetic, if basically loyal to all. But it had never seen a human operate outside of his or her own selfish bounds.

    What, it wondered, did the swordsman gain in having Ros along with him? Was he charitable, cruel, or simply stupid?

    It was then Ursus decided to stay with Ros, at least until she freed herself of the contract. Out of a selfish desire to unearth the truth about the stranger if nothing else.
  20. There were still several hours before the light would begin to fade, and Keyrn soon fell into his mile-eating stride. It had been a long time since Keyrn had been able to get a horse, and the last one he had managed to purchase had been killed less than a week later when he was ambushed suddenly by a group of sword-hunters. The sword-hunters themselves were not much to speak of, but they took his horse as an easy target, and managed to kill the poor beast before he could fight them off. When man had no other method of travel, he walked. And eventually he got damn good at it.

    The good thing was that, even walking by himself, he was never alone. Irithil's constant desire to chatter had been a bit shocking to the childhood Keyrn, who had been used to nothing but the silent, stoic blades. But now he welcomed her meaningless conversation. He paused to pick a flower that she pointed out to him, summoning the dual-bladed staff to tuck it next to the blade. She wrapped around it and practically purred, which brought a smile to his face. He was unconcerned about the fact that his human traveling companion now knew about one of his other blades. It would make no real difference in their combat, when such a combat came, and feeling Irithil glow inside him with a childlike joy was more than worth the exchange. It was funny how a blade far older than he could ever be would notice more of the simple pleasures in life. He would have been just as likely to step on the flower as to stop and actually look at it. In some ways that was sad, in other ways it was nice. He could rely on his blades, or, at least, most of them, and they would help him to be a better person.

    He walked on with almost a purpose for several hours, pausing only occasionally to drink some water or look at something that Irithil had pointed out to him. He was content to ignore his strange traveling companion as long as she did not interfere with him.

    And so, several hours after he had started walking, Keyrn came to another unexpected stop. Except this time, instead of moving on again after a few moments, he spread out his traveling cloak upon the ground, dropped his pack, and settled down. The sun was just starting to dip below the horizon, and while there might still be another half hour to hour of light left in which they could travel, Keyrn seemed quite content with the place he had stopped. There was a tree nearby, and a small sound of dripping water. The grass was green on the edge of the path, and the ground mostly free of rocks and other debris. He settled happily on top of his cloak, and began to rummage through his pack, before drawing out a wrapped bundle of jerky and some rice cakes.
    #20 Peregrine, Jan 25, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2014
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