The Sword Saint

(To read the previous part, click here)


“Uh, guys,” Nino said, “not to interrupt this tender moment, but… Karel’s probably almost here by now!” “I am here,” Karel said. He stood ominously at the entrance of the cave, a silhouette against the blinding white snow of the mountain. He drew his blade and pointed it at Canas. “You. Are you the one they call The Hermit on the Mountain?” “Huh? Me?” Canas asked, confused. “Uh, yeah. I mean, Yes!” He puffed out his chest and spoke confidently. “I am indeed The Hermit on th-“ Niime pushed him aside. “Did you really think I’d stand by and let you throw your life away?” Niime asked Canas. “I don’t leave this mountain enough to know what I am called by the world, but I guess that’d make me the hermit on the mountain. On this mountain, I am called Niime. But there was once a time when the world called me Vivienne.” “I care not for what you are called,” Karel said. “Then you know not to whom you speak,” Niime said, “Though the fault is not yours. I imagine the powers that be have been quite thorough in their efforts to strike my name from the history books.” “I care little for your history, or any other ramblings of a senile old woman. You are quite different from the fabled dark mage I’d heard legends of.” Niime cackled. “You think I’m senile, do you? Ah, perhaps you’re right. All that was a lifetime ago. Perhaps I’m no longer a worthy opponent.” “No,” Karel said, forcefully, “Your façade of weakness will not fool me. I understand little of magic, but even I can sense that you possess a fearsome power. The strength of your dark magic is almost enough to rival even Nergal’s.” “Almost?” Niime asked indignantly, “How dare you barge into my own home and suggest that my mastery of elder magic is second to anyone else’s? I should strike you down where you stand!” “I encourage you to try,” Karel said, “But before we fight, I’d like to be perfectly clear that if any of your friends or family intervene, they will pay for their meddling with their life. That goes for you too, Jaffar.” He pointed his sword to a shadowy corner, from which Jaffar emerged. “Tch.” “I agree,” Niime said, “I have much to teach this whelp, and I won’t have you interrupting my lesson.” “I will teach you not to underestimate me,” Karel said, “En Garde!” “Actually, hold up a second,” Niime said, “Before we fight, could I warm up a bit? It’s been so long since I’ve ever actually fought, I need to make sure I still remember how. I trust it wouldn’t be a problem if you let me cast a single Flux tome before we begin in earnest?” “Hmph. Very well,” Karel said, “My blade’s hunger will not be sated if I cannot fight you at your full strength.” “Thank you very much, young man!” Niime said, “Now, where did I put that book…” She searched around the pockets of her robes. “Ah! Here it is! Ahem…”

With an otherworldly chant, Niime summoned a sphere of darkness, which quickly melted and seeped into the ground. In then rose up from below Karel’s feet, coalescing into an orb around him and exploding with dark energy. He leaned backwards, avoiding the attack by the narrowest possible margin. His eyes widened in shock as he jumped to the side just in time to dodge a second explosion behind him. He looked down and saw that darkness continued to rise from his shadow. He just barely managed to dodge a third explosion. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. When it seemed the explosive assault had abated, he smiled. “So you can smile,” Niime remarked. “Only when fighting a worthy opponent,” Karel said, quickly scowling. “I see,” Niime said, “Why is that?” “The time for your questions has passed!” “It is a poor student who won’t answer his teacher’s questions,” Niime said. “I’m not your student. I’m your opponent!” “Incorrect,” Niime said, “I may be your opponent, but you are not mine. If you want me to fight you, you must answer my questions in return.” “I am not here to bargain with you,” Karel said, “I am here to kill you!” “Then do it.” Niime said, holding her arms out to her sides as if preparing to embrace death. “What madness is this?” Karel asked. “I’m calling your bluff,” Niime said, “You don’t want to kill me, you want to fight me. And I won’t fight you unless you answer my questions.” “You’d really risk your life for some answers?” Niime cackled. “I am pretty crazy,” she admitted, “Just ask my son.” “Huh? Uh, er, w-well…” Canas stuttered, causing Niime to cackle again. “Enough of these games,” Karel said, “I believe that you are willing to risk your own life, but would you risk hers?” He pointed his sword at Nino, who shuddered in fear. He began walking towards her. “Would you fight for her?” “NO!” Niime’s voice exploded with elder magic, inhumanly loud and impossibly deep. It was enough to stop even Karel in his tracks. “You will not harm Nino. But I will not fight you. Because if you take one more step towards her, Nino, Canas, Jafar, and I will execute you. There will be no fight,” Niime calmly explained, “We will put you down like a dog. And I don’t know if you are a spiritual man, but if there is any afterlife, I will see to it that the tattered remains of your soul are in no shape to reach it.” “Pfeh,” Karel said, “Very well. I’ll answer your questions.”

“So why do you only smile when fighting a worthy opponent?” Niime asked. “I am the sword demon,” Karel said, “I live only that my blade may spill blood. It is only in combat that I feel alive.” “What must happen to a man to convince him he is a demon?” Niime asked. “I am no more a man than the sword I hold,” Karel said. “Then what are you?” Niime asked, “Because you are no demon. A demon feels only hate, if anything at all. Demons do not smile, even when they kill.” “You speak as if you know of demons,” Karel said. “I know precious little of them,” Niime said, “But certainly more than you.” “Whatever,” Karel said, “Are you satisfied with my answer?” “With that one, I suppose,” Niime said, “But why did you only smile after I attacked? Did you not think me a worthy opponent before?” “I was not yet sure,” Karel said. “And a mere Flux was enough to convince you? I hope you realize that was only the faintest taste of my power.” “It is not your magical power that makes you a worthy opponent,” Karel said. “Oh? Well, I was about to fight, but I must say that I am now intrigued. Explain yourself.” Niime said. “Any above-average mage is more powerful than the most powerful swordsman,” Karel said, “For what is a man with a sword next to the raw destructive power of the elements themselves?” “Not to mention elder magic, which is far more destructive and powerful than anima magic,” Niime chimed in. “Yet I find so few mages to be worthy opponents, for the same reason that a sword will always best an axe; combat is about more than just power. One must be quick and cunning enough to gain the upper hand over their opponent. And you have displayed a cunning that I have seen in very few mages, despite all their supposed wisdom. Which is why my blade hungers for your blood more ravenously than it has in years. Any further questions before I am allowed to sate it?” “No, I’m finished. I thank you for your compliment, and hope that you have learned from me as I have learned from you.” “Pfah.”

Karel dashed towards Niime and swung his blade with blistering speed. He was surprised that she didn’t seem to make any effort to avoid his attack, and even more surprised that his sword passed through her body with no resistance. He heard a chant behind him, and turned around to see that Niime with her hands surrounded by a dark aura, preparing to hit him with a magical blast. He ducked to avoid her attack, but it never came; instead, the energy around her hands coalesced into a manacle that bound his left foot to the ground. He slashed at her again, but once more struck only the air; the illusion he attacked dissipated into a shadowy mist. Niime had teleported to a safe distance, and summoned a small ball of dark energy energy, about the size of a fist. With a horizontal wave of her hand, it split into a row of 8 orbs, each the same size of the original. With a vertical wave, they multiplied into a square of 64 orbs. She pushed her hands forward, causing the orbs the top row of orbs to fly towards Karel, then the second row, and so on, the time between attacks decreasing with each one. Even with his foot held firmly in place, Karel managed to dodge or deflect all of the orbs sent his way, causing them to bounce around the walls of the cave, eventually fusing into a large sphere above his head that grew with each dodged attack. When the second last row was depleted, Niime pushed her hands out to her sides, sending the entire final row at once, and dropping the large sphere. Karel ducked under the smaller spheres, but didn’t see the second attack until it was too late; it exploded, shattering his restraint and knocking him to the ground.

Karel laughed. “What’s so funny?” Niime asked. “It’s been a long time since anyone’s managed to hurt me,” Karel said, “You have my sincerest thanks for this excellent battle.” “Well, as the winner, the pleasure was all mine.” Niime said. “This battle is far from over!” Karel stood up and closed the distance between them in the blink of an eye, hoping to strike her down before she could react. His blade sunk into her flesh, causing everyone to gasp in horror. But something felt wrong. He turned around to see Niime far behind him, preparing to cast a spell. “I guess that trick won’t work on you anymore,” Niime said. Karel dashed towards her and struck her down before she could finish her spell. But he knew she was too clever to just lose like that. He turned around to see where she’d teleported. He turned around to see her gathering a massive amount of energy, enough to easily kill him if she landed an attack with it. But he didn’t intend to give her the chance. Before she could finish her spell, he closed the distance and sunk his blade into her flesh, immediately turning around to see where she’d teleported next. He turned around just in time to see her shoot a huge orb of dark energy at him. As he prepared his stance to dodge the attack and strike yet again, he noticed the blood on his sword, far too late. He turned around, but before he could finish off the real Niime, a lance of dark energy pierced his stomach, stabbing clear through his torso and out his back. The huge attack that Niime had been charging passed through him harmlessly, a mere illusion. He fell to his knees, defeated.

Niime began cackling, but the pain in her side cut her off. “Right. This,” she said, wincing in pain at the wound from Karel’s sword, “Canas, if you’d be so kind…” “Right, of course,” Canas said, grabbing a Mend staff and healing his mother with it. “What are you waiting for?” Karel asked,  his breath coming in pained gasps, “If you intend to kill me, be done with it.” “I don’t want to kill you,” Niime said. “Then what will you do with me?” Karel asked. “Well, I want to teach you a lesson,” Niime said, “But I can’t teach you unless you’re willing to learn.” “And what would you have me learn?” Karel asked. “That you are no demon,” Niime said. “Again with this nonsense?” Karel asked. “I have no problem letting you live,” Niime said, “I just need you to say that you want to.” “Pfeh. I don’t care either way. I want nothing but the blood of the strong.” “You can’t fight if you’re dead,” Niime said, “Is it not worth staying alive, even if it’s just for that?” “To live by the sword is to die by the sword,” Karel said, “I made my peace with that long ago.” “Why?” Niime asked, “Why are you so committed to denying your own humanity that you would die before admitting to it? I don’t understand.” “Ha,” Karel laughed, weakly, “I guess some mysteries are beyond even the grasp of the legendary Hermit on the Mountain.” “Oh, please,” Niime scoffed in annoyance, “I’m just trying to provoke you into doing some self-reflection. You’re not some mysterious enigma. You’re just afraid.” “I do not fear death,” Karel said. “I think you do,” Niime said, “But what you fear even more is your own humanity.” “If you’re going to kill me anyway, I’d prefer you do it soon and spare me your speaking in riddles,” Karel said. “No, you will listen to me,” Niime said, “You want so desperately to believe that you’re a demon, because a demon cannot be blamed for the people it kills, any more than a fox can be blamed for eating chickens. It is simply in their nature. A human who acts as a demon does is broken, but what is broken can be fixed. And that terrifies you. Because if you could be fixed, then you had a choice. You are truly guilty for the sins you have committed. So it’s easier for you to lie to yourself.” “That… that’s not true,” Karel said, shaken. “Seriously?” Niime asked, incredulously, “Since you’re being so stubborn, I won’t let you live unless you also admit that you’re scared.” “I’m not,” Karel said, “I feel nothing.” “Really?” Niime asked, “Never? You mean to tell me that you’ve never once in your life felt anything that wasn’t the thrill of combat? You’ve never enjoyed food, or drink, or the company of a friend, or family? Or a lover?” “Never.” Karel said, defiantly. “Well, I tried my best,” Niime said, “Have fun bleeding out.”

“Karla!” Nino interrupted just before Niime finished him off. “What about Karla?” “N-never,” Karel said, much less confident, “She was nothing more than another strong opponent to me.” “That’s not true!” Nino said, “I remember now. I wasn’t like eavesdropping or anything, but I happened to be nearby when I heard her talking about how you used to play together when you were kids!” “You misremember,” Karel said, coldly, “And even if there were ever any humanity inside me, it died long ago.” “It’s not too late to change!” Nino cried, “It’s never too late. I was told my whole life that I was stupid and useless. That nothing I ever did was good enough, and that I was just a burden who got in everyone’s way. And I believed it. I thought I’d be stupid and useless forever. But then I had friends who believed in me. Friends who gave me a chance to change. And thanks to them, I know that I’m not stupid or useless! So I believe in you. I want to give you a chance to change!” “Your words won’t change me,” Karel said, “They can’t wipe away the sins I’ve committed.” “Nothing can,” Jaffar said, “They will haunt you to the grave and beyond. You can either die a coward, or live to repent and atone.” “Do you really think it’s that easy to repent?” Karel hissed. “I know it isn’t,” Jaffar said, “I’ve been where you are. I know how hard it is. But all it takes is one person believing that you aren’t a monster. You know who that person is. Go to her and tell her the truth.” “I… you’re right.” Karel said. “I trained for so long to inherit this sword, that I forgot everything that wasn’t the blade. I… I just…” “Well, you seem to have learned your lesson, so I’ll just go ahead and-” the lance vanished, causing Karel to cry out in pain. Niime quickly healed him with the Mend staff.

“I… thank you,” Karel said, “It seems that you really did have much to teach me. I thought the path I traveled was the path of the sword, but I now see that I am mistaken. I will find a new path, even if I must cut it with my own blade. I hope that our paths cross again someday.” “That’s lovely,” Niime said, “Good luck with that.” With a small bow of his head, Karel departed. Several minutes later, they all heard clanking armor echoing from deeper in the cave. Niime sighed. “Is that-” “I thought I heard arguing! Is everyone OK?” Wallace asked, loudly, “I may have gotten a little lost on the way here, but I came as fast as I could!” Nino laughed. “Don’t worry, it’s all taken care of.”

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The Sword Demon

“Hey there!” Nino shouted to the stranger from atop her Pegasus, “This mountain’s pretty- wait! Stop! I didn’t tell you to-” her voice trailed off as her Pegasus flew off, despite her commands. The man she was addressing continued climbing the mountain as if nothing happened.  A few seconds later, the Pegasus flew back around. “OK, now stop! I SAID STOP!! Sorry, my peg-” was all she managed to say before her Pegasus took her out of earshot once more. “-not usually like this it’s just-” This repeated several more times. “-the thing about this mountain-” “-a super scary drag-” “-sten to someone who’s trying to  save your-”

After managing to slow her Pegasus down to a brisk trot, she decided to jump off its back rather than wait for it to follow her commands. She sprained her ankle, although if it weren’t for the thick mountain snow and a well-timed wind spell, she would have suffered much worse. “I’m OK,” she shouted, “I mean, mostly. Any chance you have a healing staff?” He answered her with silence. “It’s OK, I have a vulnerary, just give me a sec!” She drank a sip of vulnerary and chased after the man on her newly healed feet.

 

“Hey there!” she repeated when she caught up to him, “This mountain’s really dangerous! You might want to think about turning back!” He continued ignoring her. “Hey, can you hear me? There’s nothing on top of this mountain but trouble! There’s also, like, dangerous avalanches! Why won’t you listen me?” She stood directly in his way to bar his passage. He walked around her, the closest he’d come to acknowledging her existence. “Hey, wait a second, I know you!” she said, taking a good look at his face, “You’re Karel!”

 

“How do you know that name?” He snarled, reaching for the hilt of his sword and looking at her for the first time. “We fought together!” she said, lowering her hood to reveal her face. “It’s me, Nino! We fought with Hector and Eliwood! Remember? We fought a dragon together!” He took his hand off his sword and continued walking. “I remember Hector and Eliwood. A Sacaean woman. Lyn? My sister…” His pace faltered, for just a step. “But I remember no others.” “That’s OK! I don’t think we talked much, so I don’t remember you too well. I remember thinking you were kind of scary, but that’s probably just cuz I was a kid!” “You remember well, then,” he said. “Hah! That’s a funny joke!” Nino said, “Anyways, what brings you around here? It’s pretty dangerous, so you should probably turn back. I can call Peggy back and give you a ride, if you want. Peggy is my Pegasus. Get it? Pretty neat, huh?” “I can take care of myself.” Karel said. “Why are you climbing this mountain anyway? There’s nothing up there! So why don’t you just go back to town and enjoy some hot chocolate?” Nino asked. “It is none of your business,” Karel said. “You don’t gotta be so mean, y’know,” Nino said, “I’m just concerned for your safety, is all.” “You should be more concerned for the safety of whoever you’re trying to protect by lying to me,” Karel said. “Huh? Why? Do you want to hurt granny Niime?” Nino asked, “er, wait-” “So someone does live on this mountain,” Karel said. “OK, fine, yes! Niime lives up there! But I won’t let you hurt her! If you want to kill her, you’ll have to get through me!” She stood in his way with her arms spread wide.

 

“Tsk.” He stopped and pulled his sword just slightly from its scabbard, “It seems you don’t remember me so well after all. If you did, you wouldn’t be foolish enough to stand in my way.” “Y-you’d really kill me?” Nino asked. “I don’t want to, but I won’t hesitate to strike you down if you stand in my way.” “I… fine!” she said, stepping aside, “But I’m not getting out of the way because I’m scared of you! I just know Niime’s strong enough for a loser like you!” “We’ll see.” He said. “Uh, excuse me,” she said, “I just remembered that I have some, uh, important business at the top of the mountain. PEGGY!!” “I take it the avalanches were just a bluff, then?” Karel asked. “Huh? No, those are very real! In fact, one almost wiped out a whole village but me and Canas and his wife managed to-” “Enough.” Karel interrupted, “If there are avalanches, then I’ll not have you endanger me with your shouting. Raise your voice again and I will not hesitate to cut you down.” “Jeez, OK, I’m sorry,” Nino whispered, “Here, let me just…” She pulled out a tome and cast a fireball into the air. Her Pegasus saw the signal and soon landed gracefully beside her. “Quick, Peggy!” Nino whispered to her Pegasus as she mounted it, “We have to get home!” The Pegasus took off, kicking up a gust of cold air and snow that Karel endured without so much as a shiver.

 

“What the devil was that noise?” Canas asked, investigating the muffled thump he had heard outside the cave. “Nino? I do wish you’d stop dismounting your Pegasus before it lands. One of these days-” “No time for that!” Nino interjected, picking herself up from the snow bank she had crashed into, “We kind of have a situation on our hands!” “A good situation?” he asked, hopefully, though he knew his hope was in vain. “Uuuhhhhhhhh would you consider a scary swordmaster coming to kill your mom a good situation?” “Uh, not at all,” Canas said, “Is that what’s happening?” “Yeah,” Nino said, “Remember Karel?” “Karel?!” A shiver went down Canas’s spine. “From what I recall, he was on a quest to find strong people to kill. Does he think my mom is that strong?” ” Do you think I’m not?” Niime asked. “I-I didn’t say that,” Canas said, “It’s just…” “Don’t worry, I won’t kill your little friend. Probably,” Niime said. “That’s not what I was worried about!” Nino said. “All I’m worried about is you two catching a cold from standing out in the snow like a couple of fools!” Niime scolded. “But I was just-” Canas protested. “I didn’t ask for your excuses, I asked you to come back inside. Don’t make me come out there and drag you back in myself!” “You actually didn’t ask anything of us, but whatever,” Canas muttered under his breath, obediently doing as he was told despite his defiant words. “What was that?” Niime demanded, “Speak up so I can hear you!” “It was noth-” “He said you didn’t actually ask anything of us, but whatever!” Nino said loudly as she rushed back inside. Canas winced in fear. He began, “Nino, you weren’t supposed to repeat-“ “And you weren’t supposed to say it!” Niime said, “You should be thanking Nino! The only reason I’m not giving you the punishment you deserve is because I don’t want to scare her!” “Uh-oh, sounds like someone’s in trou-ble~” Nino said in a taunting, sing-song voice. “And he’s not the only one!” Niime yelled, turning to Nino, “Did you jump in the snow again?” “Huh? M-me?” Nino asked, suddenly panicking, “I-I-I… yeah…” “Why? Did you forget all the times I’ve scolded you?” Niime asked. “N-no,” Nino said. “Did you think I’d be too stupid to notice that you’re covered in snow?” Niime asked. “N-no,” Nino said, starting to cry. “Then why?” “I-I was in a hurry!” Nino sobbed. “In a hurry to do what?” Niime asked, “Break your neck? Freeze to death?” “I was in a hurry to save you!” Nino sobbed. “I was just trying to help, because I’m too stupid to remember that I’m a useless idiot who only ever gets in the way!”

Niime hugged Nino. “You’re not stupid, and you’re not useless,” Niime said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, and I’m sorry I made you feel that way. You are a very bright and helpful young woman. I know you’re worried for my safety, but I’m just as worried for yours. And you are too young to risk your life for someone as old as me.” “I’m sorry,” Nino said, desperately, “I promise, I won’t do it again. I’ll be a good girl, I’ll do whatever you want, so please, please don’t hate me.” “I just want you to be safe and happy,” Niime said, “But even if you aren’t, I’ll still love you. So if you’re ever hurt, or sad, just let Granny Niime take care of you.” “Thanks,” Nino said, “I love you, too.”

“I’m reticent to interrupt this touching moment,” Canas chimed in after several seconds of silence, “But I’m afraid the threat that Karel poses can be ignored no longer.” “Really? I’m ignoring it just fine,” Niime said. “This is no time for japes, mother!” Canas insisted, “A mad swordmaster is out for your blood! I never saw much of his swordplay firsthand, but I saw enough to know that he is no joke.” “And you think I am?” Niime asked. “I think he’s dangerous enough to warrant being taken seriously!” Canas said, “Swordsmen across the continent know him as the fabled “Sword Demon”, and from what I’ve seen, the moniker is well-deserved! If even half the legends about him are true-” “All the legends about me are true,” Niime said, “Even the ones that the world has forgotten.” “Look, mom, I know that you used to be the Mage General of Etruria, but-” “I was the Great General!” Niime reprimanded, “The first and only mage to ever hold the position! But more importantly, I am your mother, and if you continue to defy me I will blow that stupid monocle of yours clear off the mountainside!” “My monocle’s not stupid,” Canas muttered. “Yeah, I think his monocle’s cool!” Nino shouted. Niime glared at her. “S-sorry, you’re right, it’s stupid and I’m-” “It’s OK,” Niime assured, ruffling her hair affectionately, “I still love you, even if you think my son’s stupid monocle is cool.” Nino laughed.

“I…” Canas began. “What’s that?” Niime asked, “Do you have something to say?” “No,” Canas said, “Nevermind.” “No, say it,” Niime said, “I want to hear whatever stupid thought you had on your mind.” “Very well then, mother,” Canas said, “I held my tongue so we could formulate a plan for stopping Karel, but since you refuse to be reasonable, I guess I might as well tell you what’s on my mind while you’re still alive to hear it.” “And just what is on your mind?” Niime asked, “Out with it, then.” Canas paused, deep in thought. “I… am truly grateful for how kind you have been with Nino. I worried that she would be afraid of you, but my worries were entirely unfounded, and I thank you for proving me wrong,” Canas said. “I see…” Niime said, “That’s what you wanted to say to me?” “Not at all,” Canas said, “I wanted to ask you why you’ve never shown any of that kindness to your own son!” “You would really begrudge this girl my affection? After all she’s suffered, she deserves all the kindness I can give her. Unless you think she is truly unworthy of being loved?” Niime said. “Don’t you dare put those words in my mouth!” Canas spat, “I love Nino because she’s kind, and cheerful, and brave, and wonderful in more ways than I can enumerate. You insult her by letting her pain define her. But if that’s what it takes to earn your affection, I’m curious to know how much further I have to go. How much more must I suffer for you to love me, mother?”

“I’m sorry!” Nino cried, “I didn’t mean to steal your mom! I’m so sorry!” “Now look what you’ve done,” Niime said, angrily, “You’ve upset the poor girl!” “I’m not angry with you, Nino,” Canas said, “None of this is your fault. This is between me and my mother.” “What are you trying to say, Canas?” Niime asked, “Do you really think I’m as bad of a mother as Sonia was?” Nino cringed at the name. “No, but comparing yourself to her is hardly a high bar to clear!” Canas said. Niime shouted, “Is this really so important? How little do you think of me?” “As a mage and a scholar, I think the world of you,” Canas said, “But as a mother, you are surpassingly deficient! I’m sure that Hugh-” “Enough!” Niime spat. “You needn’t bring their names into this.” “Needn’t I?” Canas asked, nearly hysterically, “They’re all but dead, mother! By your hand! And I am join them! You are as much my murderer as you are my mother!” Nino began cowering in fear. Jaffar grabbed her hand to escort her out of earshot, but she held fast. She wanted to hear the rest of it.

“My hands may be stained with a sea of blood, but not a drop of it is yours!” Niime said. “Maybe not yet, but it is inevitable! You said it yourself!” Canas said, “If I keep studying deep magic, I’ll end up like them! Just a thing that used to be a person.” “Is that what you think I am?” Niime asked, “Just a thing?” “W-well, no,” Canas said. “Not everyone who studies deep magic is Taken! I didn’t raise my son to be too stupid to realize that if I could learn dark magic and keep my soul intact, then perhaps he could too!” “I… I mean… I guess that makes sense,” Canas said, “But I might just as easily end up like them!” “You won’t.” Niime said, firmly. “What makes you so sure?” Canas asked. “What makes you think you have any place questioning me when it comes to deep magic, hm?” Niime demanded. “But if I won’t, why did you say I would?” Canas asked. “Because I thought you would,” Niime said, “But you changed. The boy I sent off to the Dread Isle is different from the man who returned. That boy never could have stopped that avalanche. But you did.” “What are you trying to say?” Canas asked. “I’m proud of you, Canas. You’ve always been a brilliant scholar, but on your journey,  you gained the strength of will to become a true shaman. Your mastery of deep magic surpasses that of any other druid I have ever met, and I truly believe that you have the potential to surpass me some day. That is why I am unafraid to die at the hands of this Karel. Because I know that my secrets are safe in the hands of a worthy successor. I love you, Canas.” “I…” Canas removed his monocle to wipe the tears from his eyes. “That… that means a lot to me, mother,” Canas said, “But it’s not enough. I shouldn’t have to earn my mother’s love. I am more than just a shaman, and I am more than just your successor! I am your own flesh and blood, and if you cannot love me for that alone, then you are no mother of mine.” “Then you may call me Niime from now on.” Niime said. “Are you serious?” Canas asked, “Is your heart so cold that you would spurn me if I weren’t a shaman?” “If you weren’t a shaman, you’d be nothing.” Niime said, “Just like your brothers before you. I loved them so much, but that didn’t save them. It only damned me further for my failure. So I tried to close my heart to you. To train you so that you wouldn’t die as they had. And so that if you did, maybe I wouldn’t have to suffer that pain again. I have brought my own family such pain, all for the hubris of thinking my secrets worth preserving at any cost. I do not deserve to be called your mother.”

“I… I don’t forgive you.” Canas said. Nino gasped in shock. “You don’t deserve it. Your sins are too great. Someone as smart as you should have known better than to underestimate the darkness.” He sighed. “But I still love you. Because, as harsh as you were, you truly wanted me to live. And although I’ve suffered much because of you, you’ve suffered even more. You deserve that kindness.” Niime burst into tears she’d been holding back for too long. She ran up to Canas and hugged him. They just cried into each other’s arms without saying a word.


(To read the next part, click here)

The White Fang

“Hey there!” Nino shouted to the stranger from atop her Pegasus, “This mountain’s pretty- wait! Stop! I didn’t tell you to-” her voice trailed off as her Pegasus flew off against her wishes. The man she was addressing continued climbing the mountain as if nothing happened.  A few seconds later, the Pegasus flew back around. “OK, now stop! I SAID STOP!! Sorry, my peg-” was all she managed to say before her Pegasus took her out of earshot once more. “-not usually like this it’s just-” This repeated several more times. “-the thing about this mountain-” “-sten to someone who’s trying to  save your-” After managing to slow her Pegasus down to a brisk trot, she decided  jump off its back rather than wait for it to follow her commands. She sprained her ankle, although if it weren’t for the thick mountain snow and a well-timed wind spell, she would have suffered much worse. “I’m OK,” she shouted, “I mean, mostly. Any chance you have a healing staff?” He answered her with silence. “It’s OK, I have a vulnerary, just give me a sec!” She drank a sip of vulnerary and chased after the man on her newly healed feet.

 

“Hey there!” she repeated when she caught up to him, “This mountain’s really dangerous! You might want to think about turning back!” He continued as if he couldn’t hear him. “Hey, can you hear me? There’s nothing on top of this mountain but trouble! There’s also, like dangerous avalanches! Why won’t you listen me?” She stood directly in his way to bar his passage. He walked around her, the closest he’d come to acknowledging her existence. “Hey, wait a second, I know you!” she said, taking a good look at his face, “You’re Karel!”

 

“How do you know that name?” He snarled, reaching for the hilt of his sword and looking at her for the first time. “We fought together!” she said, lowering her hood to reveal her face. “It’s me, Nino! We fought with Hector and Eliwood! Remember? We fought a dragon together!” He took his hand off his sword and continued walking. “I remember Hector and Eliwood. A Sacaean woman. Lyn? My sister…” His pace faltered, for just a step. “But I remember no others.” “That’s OK! I don’t think we talked much, so I don’t remember you too well. I remember thinking you were kind of scary, but that’s probably just cuz I was a kid!” “You remember well, then,” he said. “Hah! That’s a funny joke!” Nino said, “Anyways, what brings you around here? It’s pretty dangerous, so you should probably turn back. I can call Peggy back and give you a ride, if you want. Peggy is my Pegasus. Get it? Pretty neat, huh?” “I can take care of myself.” Karel says. “Why are you climbing this mountain anyway? There’s nothing up there! So why don’t you just go back to town and enjoy some hot chocolate?” “I’ve come to kill The Hermit on the Mountain rumored to live up here.” “You want to kill Granny Niime!? Er, I mean-” “So she does live up there?” “No! I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’ve never heard of any mountain hermit!” “You said her name,” Karel said, flatly. “OK, fine! But I won’t let you hurt her! If you want to kill her, you’ll have to get through me!” She stood in his way with her arms spread wide.

 

“Tsk.” He stopped and pulled his sword just slightly from its scabbard, “It seems you don’t remember me so well after all. If you did, you wouldn’t be foolish enough to stand in my way.” “Y-you’d really kill me?” Nino asked. “I don’t want to, but I won’t hesitate to strike you down if you stand in my way.” “I… fine!” she said, stepping aside, “But I’m not getting out of the way because I’m scared of you! I just know Niime’s strong enough for a loser like you!” “We’ll see.” He said. “Uh, excuse me,” she said, “I just remembered that I have some, uh, important business at the top of the mountain. PEGGY!!” “I take it the avalanches were just a bluff, then?” Karel asked. “Huh? No, those are very real! In fact, one almost wiped out a whole village but me and Canas and his wife managed to-” “Enough.” Karel interrupted, “If there are avalanches, then I’ll not have you endanger me with your shouting. Raise your voice again and I will not hesitate to cut you down.” “Jeez, OK, I’m sorry,” Nino whispered, “Here, let me just…” She pulled out a tome and cast a fireball into the air. Her Pegasus quickly heeded her summons and landed gracefully beside her. “Quick, Peggy!” Nino whispered to her Pegasus as she mounted it, “We have to get home!” The Pegasus took off, kicking up a cloud of snow that Karel stoically walked through.


“So. Canas.” Nino said landing in a snow bank after jumping off her Pegasus before it landed, “There’s kind of a situation.” “A good situation?” he asked, hopefully. “Uuuhhhhhhhh would you consider a scary swordmaster coming to kill your mom a good thing?” “Uh, not at all,” Canas said, “Is that what’s happening?” “Yeah,” Nino said, “Remember Karel?” “Karel?!” A shiver went down Canas’s spine. “From what I recall, he was on a quest to find strong people to kill. Does he think my mom is that strong?” ” Do you think I’m not?” Niime asked. “I-I didn’t say that,” Canas said, “It’s just…” “Don’t worry, I won’t kill your little friend. Probably.” “That’s not what I was worried about!” Nino said “What if he kills you? I don’t want to fight him, he’s too strong!” “I don’t want to fight him, either,” Niime said, “But I won’t let anyone fight my battles for me. If this man is really foolish up enough to climb up a whole mountain to see me, I might as well play along.” “Mom, this man is no joke,” Canas said, uneasily. “And neither am I,” Niime said, “You would do well to remember just who it is you speak to, boy.” “Look, mom, I know that you used to be the Mage General of Etruria, but-” “I was the Great General!” Niime reprimanded, “The first and only mage to ever hold the position! But more importantly, I am your mother, and if you continue to defy me I will blow that stupid monocle of yours clear off the mountainside!” “I… Yes, mother,” Canas said, saidly. “My monocle’s not stupid,” he muttered. “Yeah, I think his monocle’s cool!” Nino said. Niime shot her a dirty look. “Ah, I’m sorry, you’re right, it is stupid! And I’m stupid for saying it’s cool I’m so sorry!” Nino rambled in a panic. Niime’s expression softened. “It’s OK, sweetie, I’m not angry with you.” She ruffled Nino’s hair affectionately. “I will never hurt you. I love you.” “Y-yeah, I know,” Nino said, “Sorry.” “It’s OK.” Niime said. “I…” Canas began. “What’s that?” Niime asked, “Do you have something to say?” “Yeah. Yeah, I do, mom,” Canas said, “You know I’m really grateful for how you’ve helped me look after Nino. You’ve been unfailingly kind to her, and that means more than I can put into words. But… is it really too much to ask that you show your own son the same kindness every once in a while?” Niime scowled. “After the suffering this girl has been through, she deserves every possible kindness,” she said, “Would you really accuse me of being such a terrible mother that you would compare your suffering to hers?” “You do Nino a disservice by letter her suffering define her,” Canas said, “She deserves kindness because she is a kind, sweet, and cheerful girl. And I would never say anything to diminish the hardship she’s endured, but comparing yourself to Sonia is hardly a high bar to clear.” Nino cringed at the name. “Now look what you’ve done, you’ve upset the poor girl!” Niime shouted, “Is this really so important? How little do you think of me?” “As a mage and a scholar, I think the world of you,” Canas said, “But as a mother, you are surpassingly deficient! I’m sure that Hugh-” “Enough!” Niime spat. “You needn’t bring their names into this.” “Needn’t I?” Canas asked, nearly hysterically, “They’re all but dead, mother! By your hand! And I am join them! You are as much my murderer as you are my mother!” Nino began cowering in fear, and Jaffar grabbed her hand to escort her out of earshot, but she held fast. She wanted to hear the rest of it.

“My hands may be stained with a sea of blood, but not a drop of it is yours!” Niime said. “Maybe not yet, but it is inevitable! You said it yourself!” Canas said, “If I keep studying deep magic, I’ll end up like them! Just a thing that used to be a person.” “Is that what you think I am?” Niime asked, “Just a thing?” “W-well, no,” Canas said. “Not everyone who studies deep magic is Taken! I didn’t raise my son to be too stupid to realize that if I could learn dark magic and keep my soul intact, then perhaps he could too!” “I… I mean… I guess that makes sense,” Canas said, “But I might just as easily end up like them!” “You won’t.” Niime said, firmly. “What makes you so sure?” Canas asked. “What makes you think you have any place questioning me when it comes to deep magic, hm?” Niime demanded. “But if I won’t, why did you say I would?” Canas asked. “Because I thought you would,” Niime said, “But you changed. The boy I sent off to the Dread Isle is different from the man who returned. That boy never could have stopped that avalanche. But you did.” “What are you trying to say?” Canas asked. “I’m proud of you, Canas. You’ve always been a brilliant scholar, but on your journey,  you gained the strength of will to become a true shaman. Your mastery of deep magic surpasses that of any other druid I have ever met, and I truly believe that you have the potential to surpass me some day. That is why I am unafraid to die at the hands of this Karel. Because I know that my secrets are safe in the hands of a worthy successor. I love you, Canas.” “I…” Canas removed his monocle to wipe the tears from his eyes. “That… that means a lot to me, mother,” Canas said, “But it’s not enough. I shouldn’t have to earn my mother’s love. I am more than just a shaman, and I am more than just your successor! I am your own flesh and blood, and if you cannot love me for that alone, then you are no mother of mine.” “Then you may call me Niime from now on.” Niime said. “Are you serious?” Canas asked, “Is your heart so cold that you would spurn me if I weren’t a shaman?” “If you weren’t a shaman, you’d be nothing.” Niime said, “Just like your brothers before you. I loved them so much, but that didn’t save them. It only damned me further for my failure. So I tried to close my heart to you. To train you so that you wouldn’t die as they had. And so that if you did, maybe I wouldn’t have to suffer that pain again. I have brought my own family such pain, all for the hubris of thinking my secrets worth preserving at any cost. I do not deserve to be called your mother.”

“I… I don’t forgive you.” Canas said. Nino gasped In shock. “You don’t deserve it. Your sins are too great. Someone as smart as you should have known better than to underestimate the darkness.” He sighed. “But I still love you. Because, as harsh as you were, you truly wanted me to live. And although I’ve suffered much because of you, you’ve suffered even more. You deserve that kindness.” Niime burst into tears she’d been holding back for too long. She ran up to Canas and hugged him. They just cried into each other’s arms without saying a word.

“Uh, guys,” Nino said, “not to interrupt this tender moment, but… Karel’s almost here!” “Karel!” Canas exclaimed, “I completely forgot!”

Shrimp Pistol, PI

 

I tried to look alive as I saw a silhouette through the frosted glass window of my door, but I was never much good at acting. I assumed it was just another wife looking to dig up some dirt on a cheating husband; they’d have to settle for a corpse like me.

I realized my assumption was wrong the moment the door opened. The dame who stepped into my office was too beautiful to be cheated on, and far, far too dangerous. She was a rabbit with blue-tinged fur, and she was dangerous because she knew exactly how beautiful she was. She knew that sometimes less is more, and sometimes more is less. There’s a time for quantity and a place for quality; anyone can be naked, but a true master of seduction knows that the right outfit can be even more revealing than nakedness. And from how right her outfit was, it was easy to tell that she was a true master of seduction. But far more notable than her clothing was her hair, or rather, the icy-looking, hair-shaped crystal on top of her head. It seemed too rigid to be hair, yet too flexible to be crystalline. It didn’t seem to remain the same shape, yet it never seemed to change. Similar crystals jutted from her shoulders and arms, giving her the appearance of the result of an unholy tryst between a rabbit and an ice sculpture. Two long ears poked out through the ice, though one seemed permanently bent at a right angle. I wasn’t sure what could have happened to her to cause such a thing, but I was confident that she had seen to it that whoever was responsible suffered far, far worse. Though she may have had the beauty of an actress, she didn’t have any more talent for acting than I did. She wore a grimace of false concern, perhaps an attempt to earn my sympathy, but I could see in her one eye uncovered by her hair a strength that defied her dainty rabbit body and delicate, icy appearance. This was a woman who would allow the Earth beneath her to melt before she would.

 

snow bunny
Character design and art by @sugaryacid

I sat for quite some time looking her over. It’s my job to analyze people, learn everything I can from their appearance. But it’d be a lie to say I wasn’t enjoying the view. Considering how good she looked, it’d almost seem rude not to. “Shrimp Pistol,” I finally say, gruffly, “Private eye. How can I help you?”

“Miss Snow,” she said, taking a seat she wasn’t offered. It was obviously a fake name, but as someone who just introduced himself as “Shrimp Pistol”, I hardly had a place to object. “I’m afraid that I’m in dreadful need of your help, dear sir. Don’t worry; money is no object, and I will see to it that you are handsomely rewarded.” “I’m a PI, ma’am, not a dear sir,” I said, “I appreciate the courtesy, but you don’t have to go about putting on airs for my benefit. I promise, you won’t scare me off.” “Hmph. Very well,” she said, the desperation gone from her voice, replaced with a cold scorn that I’m sure some people other than me would find very hot. “I have need for a hired gun. I hear rumors that you’re good at what you do. Any truth to them?” “I’m the best at what I do,” I exaggerated, “Which is investigate. Privately. I’m no killer.” “I’m sure some corpses would disagree,” she said. “I’m not a killer anymore.” I said. “Once a killer, always a killer,” she said. “If you’re a killer, why do you need me?” I asked. “Me? A killer? Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, being rather ridiculous, in my opinion. True, it was a simple enough phrase for anyone to come up with, but the way she weighed the words convinced me that she understood them firsthand. “In any case, you hardly seem to be in the position to turn down the money,” she said. It didn’t take a PI to tell that. “How much?” I asked. “100k,” she said, “With bonuses, if you do a good job.” “Hhmmmm…” I pretended to consider accepting her offer. There was no way I could pass up 100k. In reality, I was considering whether or not I was stupid enough to go through on the idea I had. I was.

Without a word, I grabbed the unloaded revolver under my desk with my left hand, pointed it at her, and turned off the safety. She quickly grabbed my hand and twisted it away, nearly breaking my arm and forcing me to drop the gun. But I wasn’t disarmed. I cocked the mechanism in my right arm and pointed it at her. A punch from this range would be deadlier than any gun. Unlike when I pulled the gun, genuine fear seemed to flash across her face, if only for a moment. Was she familiar with this type of weapon? I had no intention of punching her, but when she grabbed my arm, I was so surprised I almost did. But then, I found that I couldn’t. My arm felt numbingly cold. I looked down to see that it was encased in ice, the mechanism frozen in place. Just who was this “Miss Snow”?

“So much for not being a killer,” I quipped. “You’re lucky I’m not a killer, or I would have frozen the very blood in your veins!” she growled, “What the Hell were you doing?” “Investigating,” I said, “It’s what I do. I had a hunch that you were more a killer than you let on, and I wanted to test it. And I was right.” “Did you not have a hunch that I’d be pissed off that you pulled a gun on me?” I picked up the gun, double checking that it was the unloaded one, then put it up to my head and pulled the trigger. “In my defense, it wasn’t loaded,” I said. “Hmph. But I didn’t know that!” she said, “And you still could have punched me!” “I wouldn’t have, and I didn’t,” I said, “I only did what I did because I was confident you could handle it.” “If you were so confident, why would you need to test it at all?” she asked. “A PI’s business is in knowing, not guessing.” “But then you didn’t know when you first- whatever. I don’t have time for this. And I have no use for a hired gun who can’t follow orders. Goodbye.” She stood up and began walking away. “I can’t be a hired gun if you haven’t hired me,” I said, “And besides, it’s not like you ordered me not to pull a gun on you.” “I bet you think you’re real clever, don’t you?” she asked, venomously. “I do,” I admitted. “Well that smart mouth of yours may help you with some clients, but I have no need for someone who is clever. Good day.” “You underestimate my skills as a PI if you really think I can’t tell you’re bluffing when you threaten to walk away,” I said, “But you overestimate my finances if you think it won’t work on me all the same.” “Perhaps I was bluffing,” she said, “But I must say, it’s awfully tempting to just walk away after hearing you so arrogantly say that I won’t.” “You came to me for a reason,” I said, “Is spiting me really more important than that?” “Maybe~” she said, coyly. Sh-she was just joking, right? “I realize it’s distressing to think you’re being attacked,” I said, “But we work in a distressing business. By showing that I could have taken you out while your guard was lowered, I’ve proven myself a valuable asset. Not to mention I forced your hand into using a skill that I can’t help but feel you’d rather keep secret. I think you’re too smart to walk away over something so petty.” At least, I hoped she was. She scowled at me, though it did nothing to diminish her beauty. “How quick you are to disregard someone else’s pain,” she said, “Would you really forgive me as easily as you expect me to forgive you?” Uh-oh.

She crossed the distance between us before I could even raise my arm, lunging towards my face with a blade of ice formed around her hand. She stopped less than an inch short of my eye. I knew what she was doing, but it frightened me all the same. “OK, I see your point,” I said, “But-”

“AAAHHHHH!!” There was a blur of motion, then a sharp pain in my left hand. She had stabbed all the way through it. “Do you, though?” she asked. “No, I don’t!” I shouted, “What was the point of that? I never hurt you!” “But you’re clever enough to know that since you only faked an attack on me, I would only fake an attack on you,” she said, “That would be reasonable, right? But people aren’t reasonable, detective, and I think it’s about time you learned that. Your reasonable arguments won’t convince me.” “Then what will?” I asked. “You’re the private investigator,” she said, “You tell me.” The way she said the words “private investigator” suddenly made me painfully aware of an alternate meaning to those words that I had somehow never noticed. I wasn’t stupid enough to ask if it was intended. “If it’s about pay, I’ll go down to 80k.” “As I said, money is no object,” she said, “But what use do I have for you if you aren’t clever enough to convince me to hire you?” “What do you want me to do, get on my hands and knees and beg?” I asked, half-jokingly. “Hah!” she laughed derisively, “I’m sure you’d love that, wouldn’t you? I may have given you that little gift for free. But if you want me to make you grovel before me, I’ll have to charge far more than you can pay.” I blushed, my smart-talking, tough-guy persona blown away in one sentence. “I-I” I began, before she grabbed my hand, causing me to wince in pain. “H-hey what’re you-” “Ssshhhhh” she shushed me, and my hand became very cold. It probably only made the damage worse, in the long run, but it numbed the pain, which I appreciated. “Th-thanks,” I mumbled. “On the other hand, maybe I could give you a discount for being so cute when you’re flustered,” she said, teasingly, “But only if you ask really, really nicely.” I’m at a loss for words. I find myself sweating, despite failing to pay the heating bill. I had to regain control of the situation. “E-excuse me for being reasonable, but don’t think you can just walk all over me,” I said, my voice far less confident than my words, “There are plenty of mercenaries in this city. You came to my door for the same reason everyone does: because you need me as much as I need you.” “Perhaps,” she said, “But I do not want you. Could you say the same of me, I wonder?” She turned and strutted towards the door. The way her fluffy little tail moved as she walked hit harder than any of my punches. “I can’t!” I yelped, and not just because I was desperate for the cash, “I want… I want to work for you.” She turned around and flashed a devilish smile. “It seems you underestimated how good I am at what I do, Mr. Pistol,” she said. “And just what is that?” I asked. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Chemistry

The following was written for @a_pointe as a raffle prize, based on his character Mordai. If you’d like me to write a story for you, you can find info about how to commission me here!


“Would you like more water, sir?” There is a hint of contempt in the waitress’s voice, and it is far from unearned. “Ahem,” I cleared my throat to cover the sound of my stomach growling. “No thank you. Although if you could bring my check, I’d appreciate it.” The joke was that there was no check, because I’d just been drinking water for the past three hours. She didn’t laugh. “We close in ten minutes, but you’re welcome to leave before then,” she said. Oof. No ordinary man could recover from such disdain, but I was no ordinary man. “If ten more minutes I can stay, then ten more minutes I shall,” I said, “Would that I could bask in your splendor forevermore, but alas, I have no recourse but to give the next ten minutes the weight of an eternity in my heart.” The scowl on her face was broken by a smile for only the briefest of moment. It seemed that no extraordinary man could recover from such disdain, either. She left without saying another word.

The bartender caught my eye as I desperately glanced around the bar to find a last-minute mark. He had the look of one who is well versed in many areas of study which aren’t fashion; his clothes were nearly offensively drab, save for a single earring in the shape of some magical or alchemical symbol hanging from his pointy ears. He had the thick glasses, pasty complexion, and doughy physique of a scholar locked away in an ivory tower. My tiefling eyes allowed me to get a good look at him without squinting through the dim light, but they also ensured a glance from me drew as much suspicion as a stare from a human. Luckily, a glance told me all I needed to know: he was cute, and I was hungry, somewhat metaphorically, and very much literally. I snuck into the bathroom and waited until he began closing up shop to make my move.

 

“Boy, are you a mimic?” I asked, “Because you look like a treasure to me.” “Huh?” he looked around in confusion. “Are you talking to me?” “I don’t see anyone else,” I said, “And I’ve only ever seen someone as good-looking in the mirror. What’s your name?” “I-I’m an elf,” he said, blushing and adjusting his glasses as if he could hide his entire face behind them. “’I. Iman Elf’, you say? I suppose it’s only fitting that a unique beauty should have a unique name,” I said, flirtatiously. “N-no, sorry, I’m saying I’m not a mimic. I’m an elf. My name is Rofaren.” “Of course, of course, I’m only teasing you,” I said, “I didn’t think it possible, but you’re even more cute when you’re flustered. “Oh, uh, thanks, I guess?” he said, picking up a glass and idly cleaning it so he’d have an excuse to avoid eye contact, “We’re actually closed, so I can’t serve you.” “Oh, but you’ve already served me something far more delicious than any food or drink,” I said. He began blushing furiously. Well, even more furiously. “W-what’s that supposed to- oh, I get it. You’re Mordai, aren’t you?” he asked. “I see my reputation precedes me,” I said, “No wonder you seem so intimidated. But don’t worry, I don’t bite. Not unless you ask me very nicely.” I winked. It was a bold move. Perhaps too bold, but I had a reputation to maintain. He was so taken aback by my comment that he dropped the glass. I darted my hand for it and managed to catch it before it hit the ground. “That was close,” I said, my voice charged with sexual energy, “You’re lucky I’m so good with my hands.” That one didn’t even need a wink. “I won’t let myself be swayed by your ‘clever’ wordplay, so you can just drop the act already,” he said. “What act?” I asked, very much keeping the act up. “I know who you are, and I know what you do!” he said, trying to hide his bashfulness behind anger, “We’ve all heard about you, how you flirt with girls to try to charm them into giving you free food.” “Well, if that’s what you’ve heard, then I’m afraid you’ve heard lies,” I said, “First of all, Mordai does not ‘try’ to charm, he succeeds. Second of all, I flirt for their sake more than my own. Every day they are forced to toil in the service of thankless drunkards, louts, and perverts, and I wish only to offer them reprieve. Everyone wishes to feel that they are beautiful and wonderful and desired, especially by a man as devilishly handsome as myself, and I wish to fulfil their wishes. My sole selfish desire is that I may see the fruits of my labor, the smiles that I bring. Not the ugly, empty smiles their boss demands of them because it’s good for business, but true joy, the kind which can make a mere beauty gorgeous enough to rival even you. That smile is all the payment I ask of them. The free food, they give me of their own volition.”

“Wow,” he said, “I can see why they fall for you. That would be really sweet, if any of it were true.” “It’s all true! Were I as selfish as you suggest, I would’ve robbed you by now,” I said, dishonestly suggesting that I was above robbery. “It’s a lot harder to rob a place you’ve already robbed than charm someone you’ve already charmed,” he said, “You’re just doing what’ll benefit you most in the long term.” “Hah,” I laughed, “You’re pretty clever. I like that.” “I’m glad someone thinks so,” he said, more to himself than me. “Who doesn’t?” I asked, “Should I have a word with them? Or perhaps a blade?” “Huh?” he seemed panicked by my threat, “N-no, nothing like that! Just, forget it, it’s a long story.” “I have all the time in the world, darling,” I lied. “Yeah, well, I don’t.” He said, “I was supposed to have already locked up by now, so if anything, I have less than no time.” “Who cares?” I asked, “That’s what your boss wants you to do. What do you want to do?” “I… I want to be an alchemist.” He said, quietly “OK, good, we’re getting somewhere,” I said, “Why are you a bartender, then?” “I failed the alchemist academy entrance exam,” he said, “And as far as it is from being an alchemist, it’s the closest job I could find.” “So they’re the ones who think you aren’t clever?” I asked. “Yes. But I am!” He said, sounding rather desperate for me to believe him. “I believe you,” I said, “But why didn’t they?” “Because they mistake obedience and rote memorization for cleverness!” he said, with more anger than I’d imagined him capable of, “Alchemy isn’t about memorizing recipes for potions and bombs that some ancient greybeard wizard came up with a thousand years ago! If it were, anyone with a textbook would be an alchemist!” “Then what’s alchemy about to you?” I asked. “It’s about experimenting!” he said, “It’s about the thrill of never knowing if your next experiment will change the world or blow up in your face! It’s about the hours and days of menial trial and error that go nowhere, and the one brilliant moment of revelation that it all leads up to! It’s about creating new potions with old ingredients, old potions with new ingredients, or new creations that aren’t potions at all! It’s about pouring your mind, body, and soul into creating something unlike anything that has ever existed before!”

He had gotten so worked up that I could hear his heavy breathing in the ensuing silence. “S-sorry I got carried away. I didn’t mean to bore you by rambling about stuff you don’t care about.” He said, as meek as ever. “You care about it. And I care about you,” I said, “Don’t ever apologize for caring about someone or something. What you care about is what defines who you are. That is what makes you truly beautiful. Well, that and a face sculpted by… uh, do you know any gods or goddesses of beauty?” “Uh, Sune?” He offered. “A face sculpted by Sune,” I said, “Nailed it.” He laughed. For a few seconds he wore a smile as joyful and radiant as I’d described in the excuse I had made up. I could feel my own smile fade as I watched his face twist into a frown. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Maybe nothing, Maybe everything.” “Everything?” “Well, not everything,” he said, “Just you.” “Me?” I asked, “What do you mean?” “I like you,” he said. I nearly had to bite my tongue to keep from responding with a smug “obviously”. He continued, “You’re funny, and charming, and really, really hot. And, rarest of all, you seem to like me, too. You just seem too good to be true.” “Then I guess I’ll just have to prove that I am true,” I said, “lean forward and close your eyes.” He hesitantly obeyed, puckering his lips. I gently grabbed his chin. “Oh? Did you think I’d kiss you?” I asked, teasingly, “Is that what you want?” “Huh? I-I d-didn’t think anything! I-I was just-” The rest of his panicked excuse was stolen by my lips. I hoped he was too distracted by our romantic moment to notice my stomach growling. “Do I taste like a lie to you?” I asked, still holding his chin and forcing him to look into my eyes. “Er, well, I, uh…” he sputtered, “I don’t think lies have a taste.” I laughed as I released him. “You really are too cute,” I said, “But I see what you mean. I say I like you, and you want to believe, but you don’t know if you can trust me. Then again, isn’t that true of anyone? It’s impossible to ever truly know another person. Hell, it might not even be possible to truly know yourself. Trusting someone is always a gamble. But taking that change is part of what makes us… well, we’re not human, but you know what I mean.” “That’s a really nice way of putting it,” he said, “But just because it’s always a gamble doesn’t mean that the odds are always the same. Not everyone has a reputation for sweet-talking people into giving them free stuff.” “Hah,” I laughed, “Well, I’ll admit, I am a risky gamble.” I gently ran my fingers down his cheek, my nails lightly scratching his skin. I could feel the shiver run down his spine. “But I assure you the payoff is well worth it.”

“Y-you’re just trying to keep me from thinking straight!” he stuttered, accusingly. “Then I’ll just have to think straight for you,” I said, “Just think of trusting me as another one of your experiments. You don’t know what’ll happen if you pour your mind, body, and soul into me, but isn’t part of the thrill in finding out? Maybe it’ll go nowhere, or maybe it’ll lead to a brilliant revelation. Maybe I’ll change your world, or maybe, I’ll” I leaned in and whispered into his ear, “Blow. Up. In. Your. Face.” “I… that’s not fair!” he said, “You can’t use alchemy against me, that’s cheating!” “All’s fair in love and war, baby,” I said. “I… fine,” he said, “You win. I trust you.” “Thank you,” I said, “You won’t regret it.” Maybe I was even telling the truth.

“I guess they should have trained us men, too,” he said, laughing softly. “I beg your pardon?” “Oh, it’s just… the owner has started training the waitresses specifically not to fall for your charms,” he said. “Hah! Then he’ll have to train them much harder, because so far it’s been completely ineffective!” I said, “And it delights me to know that they’re wasting more time and resources failing to starve me than it would cost for them to just let me have some free food.” “I… hadn’t really thought of it that way,” he said, “It sounds so cruel when you say it like that.” “Because it is! The world is full of cruelties too civil to be seen for what they truly are. But that’s neither here nor there,” I said, despite it being everywhere. “Well, I wish I could help, but the owner’s started making us throw away any food that isn’t fresh enough to serve.” “Throw it away where, exactly?” I asked. “I… you’d seriously eat from the garbage? What happened to doing it for the smiles?” He asked. “I find that it’s somewhat more difficult to bring smiles to people’s faces when I’ve starved to death,” I said. He frowned. I may have gone a bit too far. “W-Well…” he said, hesitantly, “I have some food back at my place. I’m not as good as the chefs here, but I know the recipes, plus a few alchemy tricks. Maybe I could cook you up something nice to thank you for making me smile.”

That was… actually pretty sweet. No one had ever really seemed to take an actual, serious interest in me. I started blushing. I tasted my own medicine, and I was not terribly fond of it. “W-well… maybe some day.” I said. “But if I let that food go to waste, it’s basically like I threw it out myself, and I can’t stand that. But I really do appreciate the offer.” “Oh… that’s fine.” He said, breaking my heart with how obviously not fine he looked. “The dumpster is behind the building two buildings to the right of the front entrance, but it’s locked. I can give you the key, but-” “That won’t be necessary,” I said. “What do you mean?” He asked. “Listen,” I said, “Don’t even worry about it.” “I guess I’ll… see you later.” He said. “See you around,” I said as I left, “And stay beautiful, Rofaren.”

I found the dumpster, but I wasn’t the first to do so; I caught a red-handed bandit stealing the reward I’d worked so hard for. I laughed a broken laugh. “Any chance my devilish charms could convince you to spare a bite?” I asked the raccoon. It ignored me and continued eating, as one would expect. “I could kill you, y’know,” I bluffed, “No jury would convict me. And I know an alchemist, I’m sure he could treat whatever horrid diseases I’d contract if you bit me.” I continued to be ignored. “Why aren’t you scared?” I asked, “Can you not hear me?” The raccoon stopped chewing and gazed up at me with glowing green eyes, brighter than any light they could be reflecting. Then, after a second or two, he resumed his meal. “Why are you ignoring me?” I demanded, “How are you smart enough to pick a lock, but too stupid to know your life’s in danger?” Ignored. “Unless…” I said, “Unless you’re smart enough to know it isn’t. But how? Well, I guess I just told you, didn’t I?” I sighed. “It’s bad enough that I turned down a hot meal from a hot guy to play mind games with a raccoon, but could you at least let me win?” Ignored. “Is it OK if I sit here?” I asked, collapsing to the ground without waiting for an answer. I laid on my back and looked up at the stars. Some people feel awe, or tranquility, or humility when they look up into the vast, twinkling night sky. But I felt only hunger. “Why do you think they hate us so much?” I asked. “What drives people to hate a stranger so much that they value their garbage more than his life? That they’d sooner fill their wastebin than our bellies?” No answer. “Yet we are called thieves for taking it. We are punished for surviving while our murderers walk free. In a society that hates us, we can only survive by the kindness of strangers. I hope you don’t squander the kindness I’ve shown you the way I squandered the kindness that was shown me.”

I closed my eyes and whispered a silent apology. My stomach growled one last time. “Yeah, yeah, I get it.” I muttered. Then, silence. I could no longer hear the raccoon eating. Had he run out of food? I heard the clack of his claws as he climbed out of the dumpster, then walked across the ground. Was he heading towards me? The sound stopped, mere inches to my left. I turned my head and opened my eyes. The raccoon was standing there, offering me a stale loaf of bread. I hesitantly reached for it, trying not to startle him. Once I grabbed it, I wolfed it down as quickly as I could, chewing only just enough to get it down without choking. When I looked back up, the raccoon was still there. The moment I looked into his eyes, I knew that our souls shared a bond stronger than any magic, a connection that would outlast our bodies and minds and the very artifice of time itself. Or maybe I was just really glad to no longer be starving. “Thank you so much!” I said. The raccoon smiled, something I didn’t know raccoons could do. “Was that the last of it?” I asked. He looked down sadly. “That’s OK,” I said, “I’ll manage somehow.” He tilted his head curiously. “I don’t know! I’ll think of something. I always do,” I said. “Wait… how long have I been here? Do you think Rofaren’s still there?” The raccoon seemed to shrug, but I probably imagined it. “His offer to feed me is probably still good. But would he really be willing to feed me every day? I don’t want to be a burden on him. I’ll need to come up with another source of food.” The raccoon sniffed in the direction of the dumpster. “I guess it’s better than nothing,” I said, “But are you sure you want to give your food away?” He put his paw on my shoulder reassuringly. “I… thank you. You’re right,” I said, “but I can’t just take your food for free. How about I give you some table scraps? You won’t believe how much better actual food tastes than garbage.” He chittered excitedly. “Then do we have a deal?” I asked, extending my hand. The raccoon extended his paw, and we shook. We had a deal.

The Chosen Two

“Owain!” Lissa cried out, as her son materialized from the Outrealm portal, “You’re late! I was worried sick! What if something happened to you?” “Worry not, oh splendorous queen! Though the currents of space and time themselves may have sought to bar my passage, nothing in this universe or any other is stronger than the love which pulls me back to home and hearth! Though the rough seas of the tumultuous tempests of the Outrealms may slow me, as long as this heart pumps the blood of angels and demons through my veins, I will not be stopped!” “Oh,” Lissa said, flatly, “I see you’re still doing… that.” “But of course, m’lady! For as surely as my sword arm aches for the blood of- hold on a second, where’s Ophelia?” “Ophelia?” Lissa asked, “You brought a girl? I can’t believe my precious little prince is all grown up! It feel like it was just yesterday that I was cradling him my arms!” “Er, well, technically, you were,” Chrom said. “I knew that, it was a joke!” Lissa said, annoyed, “Jeez, Chrom, get with the program.” “I-I knew that,” Chrom said, sounding very much like he didn’t. “As hilarious as it was,” Frederick deadpanned, “I’m afraid this isn’t the time for jokes. Someone very close to Owain is missing; I’ll postpone my told-you-sos until we’ve found her.” “Missing? No one’s missing, she’s just, a bit later than me!” Owain said, visibly freaking out, “And besides, Owain is the name that Fate stripped from me! I am now Odin Dark!”

“Ophelia!” Owain cried out, as his daughter materialized from the Outrealm portal, “You’re late! I was worried sick! What if something happened to you?” “Hah. Like mother, like son, I suppose,” Chrom said. “What? I am not like him/her!” Lissa and Owain said in unison, pointing at each other, causing Chrom to laugh even harder. “A-anyway,” Owain said, “O Exalted ones of Ylisse… and Frederick… I present to you the searing star of salvation, The Chosen One who was foretold to eclipse even the mighty Odin Dark, that we may destroy the evils which I alone am powerless before! Feast your eyes upon… Ophelia Dusk!” “Hi! I’m so glad to finally meet you! Er, I mean…” Ophelia said. “Hah! Her voice even sounds like yours, Lissa.” Chrom said. “What!? D-does not! And she doesn’t even look anything like…” She stared at Ophelia for a few seconds, then glared at Owain. “Owain! Why does your girlfriend look so much like me? “G-girlfriend?! This isn’t my- This is your granddaughter!” “My WHAT?” Lissa asked, shocked, “You… You adopted this girl who’s only a few years younger than you?” “No, mom, she’s my child. I’m married. And we… had a child.” “So you had sex?!” Lissa asked. “Gods, mom, why would you ask me that? You are embarrassing me in front of my daughter!” Owain said, blushing furiously. “You’re embarrassing me in front of my brother!” Lissa said, “And Frederick!” “Don’t mind me, I think it’s hilarious,” Chrom said, “And congratulations on having sex.” “YOU’RE NOT HELPING!” Odin and Lissa both shouted at Chrom. “But there must be something you can do to help,” Lissa said, “I mean, you’re Exalt, right? Make this illegal!” “Make what illegal, exactly?” Chrom asked. “Me being a grandmother! I’m too young to be a grandmother! I’m barely old enough to be a regular mother!” “A-A thousand pardons if I have offended you, queen mother, and a thousand more for you, his exalted majesty,” Ophelia said. “just Chrom is fine,” Chrom muttered under his breath. Ophelia continued, “I have long felt the tug of my Ylissean blood to a halidom I hoped to call home. I prayed that as a princess of two worlds I might be accepted in both and bridge the distance between our realms, if only by inches. But I see now that the life of a Chosen One is not so easy. Please know that I hold no hatred in my heart for you; I am but a foreigner to you, one from a land you’ve never so much as seen on a map. You have every right to cast me back to the world from whence I came.”

“AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH I’M SO SORRY!” Lissa cried as she ran to Ophelia and hugged her tight, “I never want you to feel like you don’t belong here. You are a precious princess of Ylisse and you will always have a place in my home and in my heart!” “Don’t worry, mom’s an incredible healer, so she’ll patch you up if she breaks any of your bones,” Owain said, half-jokingly. “Thank you,” Ophelia said, tears streaming down her face, “I just said all that stuff to sound cool, I really, really didn’t want to leave. I love you, grandma.” “I love you, too, princess,” Lissa said, “And you don’t have to think of me as your grandma. I can be more like your cool big sis!” “You seem more like mom to me,” Ophelia said. “I guess I’ll take it,” Lissa said, “But don’t you already have a mom? Unless… oh.” Her smile vanished as she let go of Ophelia. “I hadn’t realized that’s why she didn’t come with you. I’m so sorry I brought it up.” “N-no, it’s not like that! Her mom is alive! She’ll be here later, she’s just busy with… princess stuff,” Owain said. “Wait, so that princess of two worlds stuff wasn’t all talk? You really married royalty?” Lissa asked, surprised. “I-indeed I did, dearest mother!” Owain said, “Though I did not marry her because she is the princess of any kingdom, but because she is the princess of my heart, my soulmate, the only woman I’ve ever met who truly understands the enigma that is… Odin Dark!” Lissa sighed and rolled her eyes. “Why would you need me to be your mom if you already have one?” She asked. Chrom interjected, “Besides, if Owain’s your dad, wouldn’t that be kind of-” Lissa cut him off with a dirty look. “D-don’t get me wrong, my mom is a wonderful person!” Ophelia said, “It’s just… she and dad weren’t around much when I was growing up, so…” she started to blush and trail off, “it was nice when you said that you loved me and called me a precious princess.” “Oh, there’s no need to be embarrassed, sweetie! I was happy when you said you love me, too. And I’m glad you think of me as family, even if it is as a grandma.” She turned to Owain, exuding a cold malice that could chill a dragon to the bone. “You. What does she mean when she says you weren’t around much?” “W-well, mighty as Odin Dark may be, even he-” “Now is not the time for that bullshit!” Lissa snapped, “If you don’t explain yourself right this instant, I will go get my axe and not even the weapon triangle will keep you safe!” “I thought you of all people would understand, mother!” Owain snapped back. “Really? Because from what I heard, I wasn’t there to raise you because I DIED PROTECTING YOU. You’re here, very much alive, so what’s your excuse?” “I wasn’t on vacation, y’know!” Owain said, “You’re not the only one who’s saved the world! Since the last time I saw you, I’ve been fighting in wars, and battling monsters, and… and there was even another dragon, although he wasn’t nearly as big as Grima! The point is that that world could have become just as dangerous as the one I grew up in, and it might of if I hadn’t fought for it. So I was protecting her, I just had the decency to not die while doing it!”

Lissa and Owain were both shocked by his words. “That’s not… I didn’t mean that,” he said, “You sacrificed everything for me, and I am eternally grateful.” “You’re right, though,” Lissa said, “If you lived and I died, that must mean you’re stronger than I ever was. I’m proud of you, Owain.” She ruffled his hair affectionately. “W-well, I don’t know about all that,” he said, blushing, “I mean, it wasn’t that bad. The dragon was only like, maybe 4 or 5 times bigger than Nowi. Everyone else was all freaking out about it, but I was just like ‘Is that all?’” “I’m sure,” Lissa said, “After all, no dragon is a match for Odin Dark… but still, why would you put your own daughter through that after having gone through it yourself?” “Because I had no other choice!” Owain said, “As a parent yourself, you should know that that’s the only reason a father could ever have for abandoning her daughter.” “Couldn’t you have had someone else look after her?” Lissa asked, “We fought Grima after Lucina was born, after all.” “Who? There was no one we could trust. No other way. And even if there were, that’s all in the past. It can’t be changed.” “Well, actually,” Chrom said, before realizing he should probably keep his mouth shut. “I know you mean well, mother, but save your breath. The fact of the matter is that I’m the one who grew up without parents. I’m the one who know exactly what I’ve put her through, which is why there’s nothing you could possibly say that will make me feel any more guilty about it than I already do!” “I…” Lissa began. “I understand that you’re angry, Owain, but you shouldn’t talk to your mother like that,” Chrom said, “There are a lot of reasons a father might abandon his daughter. Not everyone who grows up with parents has parents as kind as you or Lissa. As a prince and a father, you would do well to remember that.” “I… yeah, you’re right,” Owain said, “It was kind of a stupid thing to say, considering how Elise’s father treated her. And when did you get so wise, Uncle Chrom?” “Wise? Me? That’s a new one,” he said, bashfully. “I guess you’re right,” Lissa said, “At the end of the day, it’s between you and Ophelia. None of my business.” “Thank you for understanding,” Owain said, “And Ophelia… I truly am sorry. I know I haven’t been the best father, but I will do everything in my power to be the best father in this or any other universe, or my name isn’t Odin Dark!” “But… your name isn’t Odin Dark.” Chrom said. Ophelia laughed. “I know, dad. I have seen firsthand the dangers you sought to protect me from, and know that, although your choice is a burden we must both carry, it was not the wrong one. So I, Ophelia Dusk, calling upon the totality of my power as a Chosen One, do hereby forgive you, Odin Dark, and exonerate you of this crime you never truly committed.

“I… thank you,” Owain said, tearing up as he hugged Ophelia, “The Fates chose wisely when they chose you. I love you so much.” “I love you too, dad,” she said. “I see you found the time to teach her… whatever it is that you do,” Lissa said. “I-I didn’t teach her!” Owain said, “I may have done it once or twice around her and she just sort of… picked up on it.” “Indeed! As a fated hero, the tongue of the chosen comes to me as naturally as my own breath!” Owain made a throat cutting gesture to try to get her to cut it out, but she paid him no mind. “As the venerated mother of Odin Dark himself, surely you, too, are a Chosen One! There is no need to hide your true splendor just because we stand in the presence of those too foolish to understand our awesome power!… and Frederick.” “H-hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Chrom protested as Frederick smiled. “You made her like this, Owain!” Lissa said, “Fix it! I can’t have my granddaughter spouting this kind of nonsense, people will think I’m the problem! And you may be all grown up with a wife and a kid, but do not think for one second that that’ll stop me from spanking your ass right here and now!” “Right, see, the thing is,” Owain said to Ophelia, “Mom isn’t a Chosen One, and she actually has very little patience for it, so if you could just-” “Impossible! Inconceivable!” Ophelia shouted, “If the Fates have not chosen Lissa, then they are fools! Unless… some vile sorcery has sealed her power and denied her her true self! I can scarcely fathom such villainy, but as a Chosen One, it is my duty to drive it away! Begone, foul spirit! Cower before the might of my HUG ATTAAAAAACCCCKKKKK!!” She gave Lissa a very ordinary hug. “It’s a lot cuter when she does it,” Lissa said, “Why don’t you ever hit me with a hug attack?” “W-well, even the learned Odin Dark has much yet to learn. This is my first time bearing witness to such a powerful move. Truly, she is already surpassing me in so many ways,” Owain said. “Well, now you do know it! So hit me with your best shot!” Lissa said. “But if I do it now, it’ll just feel forced,” Owain whined. “Not as forced as it’s going to feel when I have to physically force you to hug your own mother!” Lissa shouted. Owain yielded and hugged his mother for the first time in far too long. “I missed you so much, mom,” he whispered. “Me too, sweetie,” she replied.

As their group hug dragged on, Chrom looked to Frederick. “Well, this is kind of awkward, isn’t it?” he asked. “If you wish, I would be more than happy to hug you, milord,” Frederick said. “Oh, uh, thanks, but… I’m good,” Chrom said, awkwardly. “So… where’s grandpa?” Ophelia asked, when the hug was finally over. “Oh yeah, where is pops?” Owain asked. Lissa sighed. “Your father is… being your father.” She said. “So, what, is he skulking in a coffin or something?” Owain asked. “How did you know?” Lissa asked, taken aback. “Hah! I missed your sense of humor,” Owain said, “… but seriously, where is he?” “Probably still in his coffin, like you said,” Lissa said. “Wait, what? You weren’t joking? What’s pops doing in a coffin? Oh my Gods, is he dead?!” “What? No, of course not!” Lissa said, “I mean, probably not.” “Probably not? What the Hell does that mean?” Owain asked, panicked. “Your father thinks he’s turned himself into a vampire,” Lissa said, “Maybe he really has. He certainly isn’t eager to come out into the sunlight to find out.” “A vampire? Why on Earth would he do that?” Owain asked. “Research. He said it’s a state of undeath that allows the soul to remain mostly intact. According to him, vampirism could be used to preserve the life of people who couldn’t be healed by other means. Which is probably just an excuse he came up with for me because he knew I’d never approve if he said he just thought it was cool.” “Gods… I hope he’s alright.” Owain said. “Is he a Chosen One?” Ophelia asked, “He seems rather well-versed in the powers of darkness.” “No, he’s not like us,” Owain said, “He’s an actual dark mage.” “Aren’t we actual dark mages?” Ophelia asked. “You’re actual dark mages!?” Lissa asked, surprised, “What happened to your beloved swords?” “Well, my fighting style was more similar to a Hoshidan samurai than anything found in Nohr, so I had to improvise. And I was hardly a ‘dark’ mage, I just knew one spell to sap the very life essence from my enemies and restore myself with it.” “Is there other dark magic besides Nosferatu?” Ophelia asked. “Yeah, there are all kinds of hexes and curses that are too dangerous for ordinary mages. And your grandpa Henry knows damn near all of them.” “Really?” Ophelia asked, “Is he… dangerous?” “No, not to you,” Owain said, “He can be a bit… odd at times – which I realize is a lot, coming from me – but he’s a good man, when you get to know him.” “Well then what are we waiting for?” Ophelia asked, before running off to her new home, “Let’s go see him!” She stopped after a few seconds. “Er… which way is he?” They all laughed. “I’ll take the vanguard, milady,” Frederick said, climbing up on his horse and trotting in the direction opposite to the one she ran in. “And in case you all forgot: I told you so.”

Satisfaction

I purposefully pushed the door open way harder than necessary, letting the slam of the doorknob against the opposite wall dramatically announce my presence to the bar, as if my shadowy black cloak and the blood-red rapier at my hip weren’t dramatic enough. I made a mental note to learn thunder magic so I could illuminate my dramatic entrance with a timely flash of lightning in the future.

“I hear that a duelist of some renown frequents this establishment,” I said, haunting the minds and souls of everyone present with the beauty of my voice, “I wish to put him in his place. Six feet under, to be precise.” I paused to give him a chance to step forward, as if it wasn’t obvious that he was the passably attractive man with half of the women in the bar frozen in terror mid-fawning over him. “I ask that you think no less of your hero for his cowardice. He may be a coward, but he is a wise coward, for he understands that it is better to live as a coward than die as just another stain on my blade. I wish you good day.” I turned around as if I was actually going to leave after starting shit like that. “N-now hold on just a minute!” he cried out. I smiled.

“And who are you supposed to be?” I asked, my robe swooshing dramatically as I turned back to face him. “I’m the one you’re looking for. The stylish swordsman who’s won dozens of duels and hundreds of hearts!” He said, “I am Art.” “Wow, nice alliteration. And you even ended with a cute little rhyme! How long did you practice that little speech?” I asked, hypocritically, as I’d spent quite some time perfecting my own dramatic entrance, “Anyway, I must say, Art is a rather fitting name for you.” “So you agree that my beauty belongs in a museum?” he asked. “No, I was going to say you’re a real fuckin’ piece of work.” Basically everyone in the bar widened their eyes and put their hand to their mouth like “oh shit”. The bartender whispered “Damn” under his breath. Art was at a loss for words. “I barged in to begin a battle of blades. You’re the one who went and waged a war of words. You fancy yourself a warrior poet, eager to show it, think that you’re so lit, but now that you’ve blown it, just ‘cuz your foe hit, back. You should go sit, down ‘fore I throw fists, teach you you don’t know shit, ‘cuz I am a pro… bitch.” I hesitated, trying to think of something that rhymed better, but I think I’d done enough to deserve a half rhyme. The bartender dropped the glass he was cleaning in awe, and everyone else was too awed to even flinch at the noise. And honestly, I was pretty awed myself, until I realized that I could have worked “tit” in there somewhere, and started trying to think of a synonym for “sexy” or “mysterious” that rhymed with “go”.

“Anyway, I hope the rumors of your fighting skills aren’t as exaggerated as the rumors of your beauty, or this’ll be over quick.” I said, breaking the silence because someone had to. “Just who do you think you are?” he demanded. “I know that I am a hot, strong lady who is about to kick your ass,” I said, “Unless you’re too much of a coward to fight me. Which is, y’know, fine, but do you really think your little harem here would still adore you the same way?” I gestured vaguely at the women who were clutching him in terror as if he could protect them from me. “I beg your pardon?” he begged, indignantly. “Your little band of whores only fawns over you because they think you’re cool, but if you refuse my challenge, you’ll prove you aren’t, and they won’t fawn over you anymore. Is what I was getting at.” I said. “How dare you!” he predictably sputtered, the way a dumbass would, “Your quarrel is with me, not these lovely ladies. I will not allow you to impugn their honor like this!” “Would you say that you demand satisfaction?” I asked. “I would! I demand satisfaction!” He shouted. “Awesome. So are you going to slap me with your glove so it’s a Proper Duel in the eyes of Men and Gods, or are we doing a good old fashioned Bastard’s Duel?” I asked. “What?” “Bastard’s duel it is, then! Now that we’re past the point of no takesies-backsies…” I address the women around him. “I’m so sorry I called you whores, I didn’t mean it, I just wanted to fight this asshole. I don’t think any of you are whores, unless you are actual, literal, whores, in which case you are wonderful whores who kick ass, and talk to me after I’m done with this loser if you want to make some money. Also, you’re still wonderful and kick ass even if you aren’t a whore, and you deserve better than this asshole, and I’d be happy to show you what that is in just a bit.” I tried to wink but my hood completely obscured my face so they couldn’t see it. They were visibly scared and invisibly aroused by my offer.

 

“Fill the minds of these innocent maidens with your perverse ideas no longer!” Art said. “’Fill the minds of these innocent maidens with your perverse ideas’, you say? If you insist,” I say, “Have you ever tried taking your fingers and-” “No more!” He said, “No more of this buffoonery. You have what you came for! I challenge you to a duel. When the sun first dips below the horizon on the morrow, we shall-” “Oh, I don’t duel on other people’s terms,” I interjected, “we’re doing this my way.” “But I am the one who challenged you!” He protested. “Did you, though? I mean, I basically tricked you into doing it, so I instigated the duel. And besides, I duel on no one’s terms but my own.” “Very well,” he sighed, “Name your time, place, and rules of engagement.” “Right here, right now, anything goes until you die.” “You wish for all present to bear witness to one of us slaying the other?” he asked in disbelief. “I wish for all present to bear witness to me slaying you,” I clarify. “Don’t worry, my blade drinks the blood of its victims to hone its edge. There won’t even be a mess to clean up!” I lied. “And if anyone doesn’t wish to see Art’s head, which is not that good looking by the way, rolling on the ground after I sever it from his shoulders, you’re free to leave.” “You can’t serious,” he said. “Why not? Are you not willing to die for the precious honor of your precious girlfriends?” I asked, hoping he’d forgotten that I’d made it quite clear that I would only tarnish their honor if they were into that sort of thing. “I’d die for them in a heartbeat,” he said, sounding like a giant dweeb, “But kill for them? Never.” “Then I guess it’s a good thing I’m not asking you to kill. Only to die. I’m sorry, am I not making that clear enough?” I asked. “Your terms are a duel to the death, are they not?” He asked. “I never said that,” I said, “I said it ends when you die.” “And I suppose under those circumstances, you would be declared the victor?” he said. “Yeah, I guess, if I were keeping score I’d chalk it up as a win for me.” “Then, under what circumstances would I be declared the victor?” He asked. “None,” I said, plainly. “So even if I were to kill you, if I went on to die of old age-” “when you went on to die of old age,” I corrected. “When I went on to die of old age,” he continued, rolling his eyes, “You would technically be the winner?” “I guess, hypothetically, yes.” I said. “So you hope to win by a technicality?” He asked. “No, I’m going to win by killing you. Do you want me to set rules for every impossible scenario you can imagine? Like, suppose you were to suddenly give birth during the duel and survive the whole ordeal. Should I hand down a ruling on whether or not the newborn child would count as a participant in the duel? They wouldn’t, by the way.” “So you think it’s more likely that I, an adult man who has never been less pregnant in his entire life, is more likely to give birth in the next hour or so than to best you?” “Well, in my mind the really unrealistic part of the whole scenario was me just hanging around for a couple hours and not killing you while you’re going into labor, but the point is that they’re equally unlikely because they will not happen. But if it really matters to you so much, what do you think your win condition should be?” “Well, naturally, I should win if you give up-” “Not gonna happen.” “Or die.” “Not gonna happen.” “How are you so certain? All men die. You said this much yourself!” “All men die.” I said, “I’m a woman, in case you couldn’t tell.” I sort of puffed out my chest in a really blatant way when I said the word “woman.” “All women die, too.” He said. “What of The Woman Who Waits?” I asked, causing him and everyone else to recoil slightly. “She is a goddess,” he said, “one whose name should not be thrown around so casually. And you are not her.” “Are you sure? Because it feels like I’ve been waiting an eternity to kick your ass. Can we hurry up and get this show on the road?”

“I…” he looked to the women around him, then to me. “No. What you ask of me is barbarism. I will not stoop to your level.” “Fuck. Probably should have waited until after the duel to give the whole ‘you’re not whores unless you are’ speech and take away your only motive to duel me. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how much easier my life would be if I diDN’T LOVE WOMEN SO MUCH!” I said, raising my voice at the end so all women could easily hear how much I love them. “It’s not that. You’ve made a mockery of dueling, an art which is very close to my heart. I will entertain your foolishness no longer. Begone!” “Make me,” I said, “Here’s the thing. I really like this cool, mysterious stranger persona. It’s fun to show up out of nowhere, be extremely charming and beautiful, defeat someone who was thought undefeatable, and gallantly vanish into the night. But that’s all just a façade. The truth is that I am a woman who very, very much wants for you to be dead, and no one here can stop me from making that happen.” “You would murder me in front of all these witnesses?” He asked, “Or would you murder them, too?” “Who I murder is entirely up to you, my friend,” I said, “If you agree to the duel, you are legally killed in civilized combat, and no one gets murdered. If you don’t, I murder you. Someone here probably rats me out. I won’t murder them,” I said, raising my voice and looking around the room to reassure everyone, “But I’m not afraid to kill however many guards they send after me in self-defense. And that blood would be on your hands. You don’t want that, do you?”

“Very well,” he said, drawing his blade, “I will fight you. Not for honor, but to protect this city and its people from a madman!” “Madwoman,” I corrected. “I’ll give everyone 10 seconds to leave before I say en garde and am no longer liable for what you see.” The bartender cowered behind the bar and most of the patrons scrambled for the exit as I dramatically counted down from 10. “En Garde!” My blade made a satisfying swooshing sound as I drew it and swung it at Art. He parried it competently and riposted. His swordplay, while technically impressive, was wholly uninteresting and hardly worth recounting. “It must be difficult to see and move under that robe,” he taunted, “You’ll regret giving yourself a handicap like that!” “Make me.” I said. “With pleasure!” He lunged at me with a clearly telegraphed thrust that I guess he wanted me to think was his special attack. In a move I’m sure he thought was very clever, he produced a hidden dagger from his poofy, douchebag-shirt sleeve and stabbed me between the ribs. Watching the triumph on his face melt into terror was so delicious I wished everyone else could see it.

He staggered backward in horror and stared at his dagger like a dipshit. “Is something wrong?” I asked. “There’s no blood,” he said, truthfully, as he held up his dagger for all to see, “There wasn’t… when I stabbed you, I didn’t stab anything! What are you!?” “As I said…” I dramatically threw off my robe revealing my skeletal body underneath, covered only by a top that concealed my massive titties and little else. “I am a woman.” He still seemed confused on the matter. “But you’re a skeleton!” He said. “A woman skeleton, yes.” I said. “But skeletons don’t have-” “Titties? This one does. And I’d suggest you stop staring at them. My eyes are up here.” I pointed to my clearly empty eye sockets. “That’s just a little, uh, skeleton humor for all of you. Anyway, you’re still alive, so the duel’s still on. En garde!” I graciously gave him a few seconds to ready himself before attacking him again. He countered me with more swordplay that was almost impressive in how unmemorable it was. It took so long for him to exploit any of the openings I gave him that I almost killed him without doing the whole thing where I let him think he won and then kill him in his moment of triumph. Almost. Eventually, he guarded one of my attacks with his dagger, and while it clashed with his sword, he took the opportunity to swing his sword at my neck, chopping my skull clean off. Well, it was more like I popped it off when he hit my spine so he’d think he chopped it off, but that wasn’t what he saw. I stood frozen, my sword still held against his dagger. He held his breath for a tense moment, then sighed in relief. Just when he thought he’d won, a scythe blade of magical red energy sprang from the tip of my sword. The bystanders gasped in horror, but before Art could react, I pulled the blade towards me, reaping his head off in one clean blow, sending blood spurting everywhere.

There was a short moment of panicked silence, then a much longer moment of panicked screaming. “OK, so I lied about my sword drinking blood,” I said, “But I promise, I’ll help clean it up.” I picked up my skull and popped it back into place. “Well, since we both lost our heads, I guess this is a draw,” I said to Art’s lifeless corpse, “Wanna go again?” I propped up his body and gingerly placed his head on his neck upside-down. It rolled to the ground as soon as I let go of it. “Oh… right.” No one laughed. Did they not get my joke, or could they not hear it over their screaming? “I was just joking, guys,” I explained, “I know that he’s dead.” Everyone was too busy crying, vomiting, or crying while vomiting to laugh. “Hey, I agreed to clean up blood, but vomit is off the table. Although, I may be willing to clean up some other fluids, if you catch my meaning,” I said, trying my best to convey winking without eyes or eyelids. Someone vomited again right after I said that, and it probably wasn’t because they caught my meaning, but it still hurt my feelings to think that it was. “Well, if no one’s interested, I guess I’ll see y’all later,” I said, cleaning up all the blood like I said I would. Everyone was still too upset about the whole beheading thing to give me a proper response. “You’re coming with me,” I said to Art’s corpse, reanimating it with a purple spark of magic. It picked itself up and plopped its head on its neck before following me out of the bar. “I wonder if I can catch up with any of those ladies who were smart enough to leave before the duel,” I mused as I wandered out into the moonlit streets.