Darkening Sky, Chapter 7

  • Chapter 7





                    Relnar couldn’t sleep.


                    He turned over, shivering under his furs. The window in his room was sealed shut with rubble, and he dared not light a fire for fear of suffocating. Culverin had his magicks, Vorstag was a Nord, and Longinus had his stubborn pride to help him power through the cold. The Imperial had been the one to suggest that they use the fort for lodging, and he was the sort who would rather die than admit that his decision was poor.


                    Not that Relnar disagreed with staying in a fort. Having four walls and a roof around them kept the wind out, at least. Still, the inside of the fort was almost as cold as the Jeralls outside. And even though he had weathered night after night in the Alik’r under his master without a word of complaint, the cold in these mountains was different. There was always warmth, buried deep in the desert sands, and one knew that fiery Magnus would always return in the morning. Here, the sun brought them no warmth, serving only to blind them as it reflected off the pure white snow.


                    I should not have thought of home, Relnar cursed, squeezing his eyes shut as a wave of nostalgia washed over him.


                    They had all left, save him, on that fateful day. The 30th of Frostfall, 4E 171.


                    ‘Master,’ Relnar said, kneeling, dusting his head with sand. ‘I beg you, come away with me. There is nothing left here-’


                    ‘Nothing?’ Rashid rumbled, his eyes, brilliant, shockingly blue eyes, boring into his last disciple. ‘You mean to tell me that the ten years you spent here, learning the Song and Dance, meant nothing to you, at-Alhara?’


                    ‘Yes, nothing!’ Relnar cried. The seventeen-year-old felt tears begin to well. ‘It would mean nothing if you were to die, Master. The other students are all gone, and we should be too. The Thalmor’s reach is long and their stride quick. What reason do you have left to stay?’


                    The elder Redguard locked eyes with him and Relnar shook his head.


                    ‘It’s just a tomb, Master. Just a tomb.’


                    ‘No,’ Rashid rasped. ‘He is more than that.’


                    ‘We could take him with us,’ Relnar suggested, hope lending excitement to his voice. ‘I’ll help you carry the sarcophagus!’


                    ‘And oust him from his home? My home?’ His teacher was growing angry, and Relnar felt hope turn to despair as he realised that there was truly nothing he could do to sway the aged Sword-Singer. ‘We would only slow you down, m’boy.’




                    ‘I’ve severed the bonds of master and student for all of you last week already,’ Rashid said, sounding for once like a tired old man. ‘Just go, young at-Alhara. Night falls. Leave me to tend to his rest… and mine.’


                    ‘Then let me come with you.’ Relnar could feel his speech crack. Unbecoming conduct for a Sword-Singer, but he no longer cared. ‘Together, one last time, before you cast me away.’


                    Rashid laid a hand on his shoulder, and their sorrow combined almost broke him. ‘Damn the elves,’ his Master whispered – he cared little for the things that had been said, he would always be his Master. ‘Damn them all to Oblivion. All right, come with me then, m’boy, but after that you must run, understand? Run as if the Horde King himself were at your heel.’




                    ‘Do you understand?’ Rashid said, shaking him. Fifty years old and still none of that age showing in his muscles.


                    ‘I understand,’ Relnar said, his breath catching on the words. His eyes could hold no more. The tears flowed.


                    ‘Swear it.’




                    ‘Swear it on your honour, at-Alhara. Swear it, or I shall cast you from my sight right now.’


                    ‘I swear,’ Relnar sobbed.


                    ‘Good boy,’ Rashid said hoarsely, pulling him into a gentle embrace. ‘Now come, he’s waiting for us.’


                    The tomb was small, nothing like the grand mausoleums some of their brethren would erect. A granite sarcophagus, set on a sandstone bed with a single plaque, engraved by Rashid himself. The old man reached out, a damp cloth already in his hand, and swiped away the layer of dirt and grit that had accumulated on the surface over the day. There was a jar on the side of the plaque. Rashid filled it with purple flowers picked fresh from the oasis.


                    Relnar bowed his head. It was the last few moments of silence they would have together; he had no wish to taint it.


                    Rashid reached out, stroking the two blades that had been painstakingly, lovingly set on either side of the tombstone. A scimitar on the right sheath, belonging to the First Disciple, Rashid himself. A katana on the left scabbard, belonging to…


                    Her. The Second Disciple, spoken of only in whispers – and even then, only out of Rashid’s earshot, for any mention of the mysterious woman was enough to guarantee an entire day of melancholy.


                    As always, Rashid began to talk.


                    ‘Master,’ he said, in a voice softer than ever before. ‘I am here again… this time to stay. The elves might not put me to rest next to you, but you know better than anyone, no? I will always, always be here.’


                    He unsheathed his scimitar, and with a rag and waterstone, began to polish it. ‘I am right here,’ he breathed. ‘Right here, Master. And I am not moving a step from this spot, not even if every mer from the Dominion were to come put me at swordpoint. I shall never leave your side.’


                    He set the scimitar back in the side of the tomb, then reached for the katana. His voice softened even more as he slid the steel from the scabbard, and Relnar saw the waterstone tremble in his hands.


                    ‘If only she were here too.’ Rashid brought the rag down, swiping at the Akaviri sword until it was gleaming. ‘Those years, with only the three of us… the three of us against the world. Why did it ever end? Three hearts, three souls, three blades… and only three short years.’


                    Two droplets of tears fell from the old man’s cheeks onto the bared blade of the katana.


                    ‘Ah,’ Rashid sniffed, shaking his head and rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes. ‘Where are she now? Is she well? Is she even alive? If she were, she would be in her thirties now, wouldn’t she? A woman aged and tempered. Our Smiling Cat. Our sweet little sister.’


                    The First Disciple sighed, raising his head and turning to Relnar, as if he was taking note of him first time.


                    ‘Goodbye, young at-Alhara,’ he said. ‘The moment has long passed, and ere the sun rises on a morning of slaughter... run. Fly. You swore.’


                    ‘One more minute, Master,’ Relnar whispered, stricken. ‘One more minute with you.’


                    ‘Go now, m’boy…’ Rashid closed his eyes. ‘I command you, if not as your Master, then as your elder. Go. Leave me to my family.’


                    Family. A tombstone and two crossed swords.Family.


                    Relnar thought of a host of things to say, standing there, turban whipping about in the wind. In the end, all he could choke out was ‘Farewell, Master.’


                    He spared one last, longing glance behind him as he made for his camel. Rashid already had his back to him, but he could still see the old Sword-Singer’s reflection in the katana, along with his two drops of tears, glistening on the cold steel, bright as the twin moons themselves.


                    The moons were bright tonight too. Brighter, even, as they always seemed to be on this mountain.


                    Unable to sleep, Relnar had taken to pacing the battlements. It was colder up there, and the wind howled and bit at his skin, but walking helped still his heart, taking away the pang of grief that still assailed him whenever he thought of Rashid. Perhaps that is how he always felt when he thought of his Smiling Cat. No wonder the old man took so many evening walks.


                    Relnar sighed. I should head back and at least try to sleep. They were setting out early in the morning, and morning came quickly in the Jeralls.


                    Before he reached his own room, however, the door to Culverin’s chambers blew open and a humanoid figure was thrown out along with a huge tongue of flame.


                    The figure twisted in mid-air and landed on all fours. Relnar squinted. Blast this dim light. There were six rhombus-shaped daggers floating in the air next to it, lit with a dull red glow – and it was a ‘her’, Relnar realised, studying the feminine silhouette. The figure reached out and produced two more of the strange daggers.


                    Culverin strode out of the smouldering remains of his room, a fresh gash under his eye. ‘Little bitch tried to cut my throat,’ the Dunmeri mage spat.


                    Relnar heard yells from the other side of the battlements. Turning, he saw Vorstag engaging a second figure in battle. This figure was taller and slightly more well-built than the first one, and was evidently male. He wielded what was not dissimilar to a thin quarterstaff, and was obviously quite proficient with it. With a series of rapid flicks, the figure battered down Vorstag’s guard, then brought the staff over his shoulder and to the side in a massive sweep. Only by rolling backwards did the Nord avoid getting his neck snapped. Where is Longinus? We need his bow and magicks in this.


                    Relnar reached for his own sabres, hung on his back. Normally, one did not sheathe blades on the back, but his swords were short enough to be drawn quickly from either shoulder. He drew them now, preparing to charge at the figure with the staff as he vaulted from the battlements onto the fort’s courtyard.


                    He was not sure what tipped him off. A sense of unease borne of decades of experience. A whisper in the wind, perhaps. The ghosts of the Ansei of old, reaching down and warning their descendant of the danger. All he knew was that he knew, and reacted immediately.


                    A brutal, terrifyingly fast slash, exactly perpendicular to each of his ears, meant to open his throat. Aggressive opening stroke, intended to finish the fight even before it begins. Right to left, sixty-degree angle turn, movements mathematically precise. Relnar observed all he could in the limited timeframe he had – for a Sword-Singer duels with his eye and not his hand – and hazarded a guess. An iai. Battoujutsu. My enemy is Akaviri. He raised one sabre and sent the blade skidding off at an angle, then frowned. Whatever sword this was, it was as slippery as wet soap – impossible for his own blade to find purchase.


                    Counter immediately. As he blocked with one sword, he brought the second blade around and swung it in a narrow, vertical arc, slashing at the shadow that had just passed over his head. Only that was all it was, a shadow, and the second attack came again from the right flank.


                    A quarter of a second had passed, enough for Relnar to determine that the mystery opponent only had one blade and no shield. Maximise my advantage. Two Blades Become Four, or in this case Three.


                    He redirected the incoming thrust with the crossguard on his right sabre, returning a thrust of his own simultaneously, jabbing his left sabre towards the enemy. At the same time, he allowed his right sabre to slide along the enemy’s blade, using the unnatural slickness to his advantage – if his guess was correct, that would lead his blow straight to the enemy’s arm. Akaviri swords have no crossguards.


                    Another quarter-second passed. His left sword stabbed at empty air, his right scored a hit. Relnar felt the very tip of his sabre catch on flesh and brought the left back up for an immediate follow-up slash. Fourth Blade.


                    The opponent retreated immediately, making two quicksteps backwards, creating distance and ending their duel of half a second. Now that he could afford to, Relnar moved his attention from the enemy’s blade to the enemy itself.


                    Hooded cowl, grey tunic, padded boots. The third figure was sleek and petite – just as slender as the first one. That, coupled with the delicate lashes on a pair of silver eyes under the cowl, temporarily confused Relnar on the figure’s gender. Even its shoulders were narrower than most women’s. With a sudden, absurd sense of shame, he examined the figure’s chest. Male... or a very tragically unendowed female.


                    More important was the sword clutched in the figure’s hand. Straight, which was unusual for an Akaviri design. Thirty-inch length, half a foot longer than his own blades if one factored in the curve of the sabres. His advantage, reach. My advantage, speed and versatility.


                    What of expertise? The figure’s stance was balanced, the spread of his feet perfect, his sword arm steady, his centre of gravity low. A solid foundation. Certainly not a novice.


                    Relnar opened his mouth to speak, to offer the expected greeting one should, by courtesy, extend to a fellow swordsman. His opponent did not wait, however. Taking another quickstep back, the figure stretched his arm out and whipped it forwards in a curious, fanning motion.


                    At the exact same moment, Culverin lit up the courtyard with an explosion of magic, cursing his female assailant as she ducked and weaved around him, unable to get close but still hounding him with her telekinetic daggers.


                    The light illuminated a cluster of four tiny black stars spinning towards him. Darts? Relnar swept two out of the air with his right sabre, another with his left, but the last one had been thrown with additional sidespin and curved around his blade, glancing past his temple and leaving a shallow cut. He winced but didn’t drop his guard, knowing full well that the dart was-


                    ‘-only a distraction,’ he growled, stopping two quick slashes to his leg and waist and returning five blows of his own, each chop angled from above in a wide arc to cover large areas. His opponent deflected three to the side, allowing the sabres to glance off his sword, then moved sideways to avoid the last two attacks, right foot forward and left foot back, blade held diagonally upwards with the right hand.


                    Relnar’s eyes narrowed, and it was him who made the separation this time. That’s not a pure Akaviri stance.


                    The figure rushed him, blade flying. Six cuts, each directed at a specific limb, each cut standard and level, so Relnar naturally expected a feint at the end – only it was no feint and the last cut came dangerously close to his shoulder before he brought his left blade over to block and riposte.


                    Something about this form of one-handed swordsmanship seemed disturbingly familiar.


                    The enemy leant to the side, hind leg bending to the left, indicating a slash to the right, but then the front leg twisted and the attack came as a cut to the left side of his neck, which he ducked under.


                    Occur several places during a single duel, Rashid seemed to echo in his ear.


                    ‘No,’ Relnar breathed.


                    Determined to find out, he lunged, his sabres performing five lightning-quick jabs towards five separate points on his opponent’s body. Five thrusts, spaced instants apart, like tapping the desk bored, waiting for morning bread.


                    The reply came just as quickly and sent a wave of cold racing down his spine, a cold that the mountain’s chill could not compare with. The figure blocked, utilising movements with far greater emphasis on the use of the fingers and wrist than any Akaviri technique. The blade flashed, flicking between the two scimitars, producing a series of clean tings. Each of Relnar’s thrusts met with a counterstroke at their exact centre of balance, bouncing to the side away from his foe with inches to spare. True, the form was imperfect and the finer manifestation of the technique was absent, but that was of little importance. It was a shadow of a shadow, but Relnar knew Rashid’s style – his own style – when he saw it. The old Sword-Singer’s voice thundered through his skull, almost as if he was right there beside them.


                    The Fingers-Knife serves as five, protecting your cardinal points and your central theory.


                    ‘Who taught you how to do that?’ Relnar demanded, advancing, his sabres whirling in far more complex movements now. Left left left up right left up up left right left left, nine of the twelve cuts feints, three of them angled at his opponent’s legs, meant to disable, cripple.


                    The enemy’s eyes widened and he chose not to engage, flipping backwards and flinging another star-dart at him. Relnar let it catch in his turban, sprinting forward and lunging. Not expecting the sudden shift in his flow of aggression, his opponent hesitated for one quarter-second too long. Relnar’s right sabre grazed the side of his cheekbone. The hood saved him – the blade caught on the fabric and slid across his face, giving him only a minor scratch. The dark cloth fell back, revealing thin, slanted eyebrows and fine, flowing raven hair.


                    ‘Who taught you? WHO?’ Relnar roared, drawing his blade back for another strike. ‘Where did you steal these techniques?’


                    Lightning sparked, spiralling from his opponent’s free hand. Relnar grunted as the stream of magic crashed against his torso, making his muscles tense. The sudden light disoriented him for a brief half-second, and when his vision refocused, the figure was already twenty feet away, his form disappearing into the shadows.


                    ‘I am not done with you yet,’ Relnar shouted, his fury propelling him forward – and also blinding him, making him forget the first rule of combat. Pay attention.


                    He took ten steps into the unlit area of the courtyard, then saw the shadows inside twitch and groaned internally. Only then did he realise that Culverin and Vorstag were no longer fighting. They were standing on the battlements, coughing, each with a cloud of smoke in front of them.


                    All three of the figures rushed at him at once. The one with the daggers took his right flank, the one with the staff took his front, and the one with the sword took his left flank. Relnar raised his sabres, backpedalling, preparing for the lethal blow that was sure to come.


                    An arrow shot between them, the shaft sticking up vertically from the snow. Then it exploded.


                    Relnar used the momentum to his advantage, hurling himself backwards.


                    Two more arrows came sailing down, each leaving a glowing orange trail behind. The resulting pair of fireballs forced the three shadowy figures to retreat. Over the explosions and the rushing wind, a fourth arrow flew behind Relnar. There was a purple glow and Longinus appeared from thin air, a fresh arrow already nocked in his bow.


                    ‘Morwha’s bosom, you madman.’ Relnar dragged himself to his feet, wincing at the multiple burns on his face. ‘You could have killed me.’


                    Ungrateful little…


                    ‘Could’ve,’ Longinus scowled, biting back his tongue. ‘I saved your hide instead.’


                    ‘What took you so long?’


                    ‘Preparations,’ he grinned savagely. ‘Half of the battle is won by choosing the right battleground.’


                    Relnar nodded slowly. ‘And I’m assuming you prepared one yourself?’


                    ‘You catch on quick, Sword-Saint,’ Longinus said, waiting for the howling fire to die down. ‘Herd them towards me when I Recall.’


                    ‘And where will you be?’ Relnar said grimly, shaking clumps of snow from his shoulders.


                    ‘Other end of the courtyard,’ he replied, and without further ado, teleported there and began loosing a series of glowing arrows. As expected, the three assassins immediately turned to him like sharks smelling blood. Vorstag and Culverin were getting close, and the logical strategy was to take out the ranged support first.


                    That was exactly what Longinus was counting on. Unlike the other three, I take note of the surroundings. And one of the many things he had taken note of was the tower in the centre of the fort, which separated the east and west ends of the courtyard. In ancient times, troops would likely have marched right through the building, under the high arches.


                    He had raised the two gates of the tower beforehand, offering a clear, straight path to the west courtyard, where he was standing. The assassins sprinted over and Longinus blinked. What on- that’s some speed. They run two times faster than anyone I’ve seen before.


                    Then his pursuers cleared the first arch under the tower and he chuckled darkly. Are you fast enough to avoid this, though?


                    He gestured and the six arrows he had shot into the support beams of the tower exploded, blowing out the base of the structure. The three assassins ran right into a descending column of collapsing masonry as the tower crumbled into itself, the centuries-old stonework succumbing to the might of his magic.


                    ‘And that’s that,’ he said, satisfied even before the dust had cleared. Then a brilliant blue lightning bolt shot out of the debris. The bolt coalesced twenty feet away from him, on the opposite side of the west courtyard, in the form of a tunicked young man with silky black hair. The lower part of his face was obscured by a cowl, but his fear was evident in his silver eyes.


                    But not fear of me or fear for himself, Longinus observed, following his gaze towards the collapsed tower. He readied his quivers, making sure they were attached firmly enough to his back and his waist.


                    ‘Ah, your comrades?’ he taunted. ‘Even if they’re alive, they won’t have long now. So what’ll it be?’


                    The assassin did not reply. Magic began to sizzle in his left hand, and he put up his sword with his right.


                    ‘Longinus,’ Relnar called from the other side, his voice muffled by the debris. ‘Longinus, we can’t get through. Is everything all right?’


                    ‘Everything is fine,’ he called back without taking his eyes off the young man. ‘There was one survivor. I’ll deal with him quickly enough, then find a way around this mess.’


                    Still not a word from the assassin. The magic in his left hand blazed into rivulets of lightning, and he dropped to a crouched combat stance.


                    Longinus nocked another arrow, pulling slowly on the string as he took aim.


                    ‘All right, boy,’ he growled. ‘Let’s dance.’








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7 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 4 others like this.
  • Shadow Host
    Shadow Host   ·  September 15, 2017
    Sword-Singers, ninjas, snipers and mages! What's not to love 'bout this chapter? I really liked the duel between Relnar and Harrow, great clash of styles that might not be so different after all. :)
    • Hworra
      Shadow Host
      Shadow Host
      Shadow Host
      Sword-Singers, ninjas, snipers and mages! What's not to love 'bout this chapter? I really liked the duel between Relnar and Harrow, great clash of styles that might not be so different after all. :)
        ·  September 15, 2017
      Hehe, thanks, Karver-jo. I didn't put as much setup work into Relnar and Longinus as I usually do, but I hope that they're still relatable characters.
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  September 15, 2017
    MK fuckery all day! :D And let's not forget those words from Liminal Bridges and Tales from the Dwemer book series. Man, are they confusing as fuck to understand.
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  September 15, 2017
    And we're back to some good ol' shinobi action. :)
    While I do enjoy your writing style, Harrow, I feel like the word 'microsecond' seems a bit too modern-ish for Elder Scrolls. Maybe 'inch' or a 'sliver of hair thin' would be better?
    • Hworra
      And we're back to some good ol' shinobi action. :)
      While I do enjoy your writing style, Harrow, I feel like the word 'microsecond' seems a bit too modern-ish for Elder Scrolls. Maybe 'inch' or a 'sliver of hair thin' would be better?
        ·  September 15, 2017
      I would normally agree, but I did a bit of research on Sword-Singing and came across this:


      And the 'five taps in a microsecond' line was taken from here.
      • Shadow Host
        Shadow Host
        I would normally agree, but I did a bit of research on Sword-Singing and came across this:


        And the 'five taps in a microsecond' line was taken from here.
          ·  September 15, 2017
        So you've read MK's fuckery, eh? Pankratosword rulezz! Atomos and microseconds... It's tough, MK tends to play around with words a lot, creating his own and such. Most of the times, the more modern words don't really fit and microseconds is weird, and I m...  more
        • Hworra
          Shadow Host
          Shadow Host
          Shadow Host
          So you've read MK's fuckery, eh? Pankratosword rulezz! Atomos and microseconds... It's tough, MK tends to play around with words a lot, creating his own and such. Most of the times, the more modern words don't really fit and microseconds is weird, and I m...  more
            ·  September 15, 2017
          Aaahhhhrrr. I thought that was actual lore. Well, it's just one word, and I agree it'd fit the story better... changed!