Authors: David Wells
Tags: #Epic, #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction
This time he was successful. His counter strike slipped past the defenses of the enemy and landed solidly, blunting the tip of his sword on the stone hardness of the living statue. The sentinel paused for a moment at the strike and the glow of its eyes pulsed. The pause gave Alexander a moment to step back, set his stance, and prepare for the next attack.
What followed was a contest of the mind more than flesh and steel. Alexander lost himself in the dance of battle. He recognized each attack and responded with the counter. The only respite he was granted was a brief pause when he landed a successful blow against the sentinel. He fought with everything he had: mind, strength, steel, and spirit. He lost himself in the contest and became the instrument wielding the blade. The purpose of his existence in those moments was to give motion and direction to the lifeless steel of his sword. He’d felt lost in battle before. He’d felt a connection to his blade before, but never like this.
Alexander didn’t know how long he fought. He could feel the exhaustion in his arms, trembling from the weight of his sword. He could feel rivulets of blood running down his skin from small cuts suffered when he’d been too slow. His body was coated with a sheen of sweat, and his muscles were sore and strained, but his mind possessed a clarity like nothing he’d ever experienced. He was one with his blade. Their purpose was one and the same. Cut.
The fight ended suddenly. The sentinel simply stopped advancing and returned to its place in the middle of the floor.
Alexander stood holding his sword at the ready, breathing deeply, dripping sweat, and waited, watching the steady glow of his inanimate opponent’s eyes.
“You have passed the third test. Blackstone Keep is yours.” There was no emotion in the voice of the lifeless guardian. Nothing to match the elation and relief Alexander felt as he slumped to his knees, allowing the tip of his blunted and dull sword to rest on the stone floor beside him.
A moment later, he was surrounded by his friends. The invisible shield had fallen and the doorway that was once a wall of black stone faded into empty space, opening the way to the tower beyond.
Isabel was on her knees, holding his head in her arms. She said nothing and didn’t need to. Anatoly passed him quickly and stood facing the sentinel. Jack and Abigail stood beside him, while Lucky knelt in front of him to appraise his multiple minor wounds.
“That was quite a show, Alexander,” Jack offered. “I don’t think I took a breath for the last hour.”
Abigail gently kicked him in the knee. When he looked up at his sister, she gave him her sternest look and said, “Be more careful.” She couldn’t help smiling just a little.
Lucky took Isabel’s arm and unwrapped it from around Alexander. “My dear, let me take a look at his injuries.” She let go reluctantly but made no move to leave his side.
Alexander was exhausted. He rolled off his knees, sat down heavily and dropped his sword on the floor. Isabel handed him a water skin while Lucky fished around in his bag, muttering something about organizational skills.
“You should listen to your sister, Alexander.” Isabel tried to look reproving but all Alexander could see in her beautiful green eyes was relief.
He nodded, squeezing her hand, then winced when Lucky cleaned a gash on his arm with a splash of spirits.
He rested his body while Lucky tended to his wounds, but his mind didn’t rest. He retraced the steps of the fight, looking for a purpose, and then realized with a shock that he’d performed every sword form he’d learned in the skillbook. The sentinel had pushed him to apply every technique he knew with perfection. He discovered somewhere during the furious battle that he was no longer thinking about what he was going to do. He stopped planning his next move and released himself to the purpose of the blade. He reacted from a place more basic than understanding and knowledge—from a place where the action that was required sprang forth spontaneously and unbidden.
It had been more than a test. It had been a graduation examination. The skillbook had prepared him for this fight. Without the knowledge he’d learned from that magical tome, he would have fallen in minutes, but this fight had integrated that knowledge into his body and soul. He was more now than he had been before. This fight had completed his training with a blade.
Once Alexander caught his breath and Lucky had cleaned his several wounds, they made their way past the sentinel. The stone guardian was unharmed by Alexander’s attacks, and its eyes still retained their brilliant white glow, but it didn’t move or react in any way.
The room that lay beyond the arch was austere. It was perfectly circular and easily a hundred feet across. There was an ornate desk of finely carved and polished black oak set some twenty feet inside the room facing the archway. The desk had a single chair pushed in behind it but its surface was empty of everything except a thin layer of dust. On one side of the room was a spiral staircase going both upward and downward. There were four other open archways leading out of the circular room and a few benches along the walls. Otherwise it was bare.
Alexander consulted the map of the Keep inside his mind to confirm his path before he went to the spiral staircase and headed down. It wound around and around in a corkscrew through the black stone, descending deeper and deeper into the mountain. There were a few landings with passageways leading off into the darkness. Alexander passed them by without hesitation. When he came to a landing without a door or a passage, he stopped.
He held his vial of magical light higher and looked closely at the wall. “I don’t understand … it’s supposed to be right here,” he said with a frown.
He felt along the wall for some kind of catch or lever, then stopped with a rush of foolishness and stepped back.
“What is it, Alexander?” Isabel asked, standing beside him.
“The passage is supposed to be right here. I’m wondering if I can open it with the ring or if it’s some kind of mechanical hidden door.”
He closed his eyes and focused his view of the Keep’s map to this place and saw that there was indeed a secure passage. He focused his attention on the wall before them and noted a sensation similar to what he’d felt with the bridge. With a flick of his mind, the wall vanished, leaving a dark passageway beyond.
“Huh,” Anatoly said.
Jack chuckled, “Eloquent as always, Master Grace.”
The passage led thirty feet into the stone and opened to a domed room forty feet across. It was identical to the room where they’d found the first Bloodvault under the palace of Glen Morillian. In the center of the room was another pure white marble cube seven feet on a side with a band of writing carved into the stone seven inches from the top edge and wrapping entirely around the structure. On the far side, there was an outline of a doorway and the imprint of a man’s right hand in the center of the door.
Alexander squeezed one of the gashes on his arm to produce a few drops of blood and smeared it onto his hand. He looked around at his friends for just a moment with a look of expectancy and excitement. “I’ll be right back,” he said as he placed his bloody hand firmly on the handprint.
A moment later a tracing of light raced from the two points on the floor where the outline of the door met the ground to the apex of the arched doorway. A heartbeat later, his hand pushed through the stone. He followed it into the tiny room beyond. There were three shelves of white marble. The one on the right held a large and very old-looking book. The one on the left held a finely crafted jewelry box fashioned of gold and silver and encrusted with gemstones of every color and cut. These things he saw with his peripheral vision because his focus lay on the item resting on the center shelf. It was a sword cradled by an ornate display rack.
The scabbard was black as night and crafted from some material that Alexander had never seen before. The hilt was made from similar material. Without touching it, Alexander examined it closely. The thing that struck him with the greatest force was the symbol on its onyx black pommel. Inlaid in gold was the exact symbol burned into the side of his neck: the Glyph of the House of Reishi. His second sight told him that this was an item of exceeding magical enchantment. The aura produced by most enchanted items was faded and lifeless. This was vibrant and intense like the aura of a living being, though much less complex.
He lifted it reverently. It was light and cool to the touch. Carefully, slowly, he drew the blade from the scabbard. It was a good thirty inches long and almost an inch wide. The surface was blacker than black. Light fell into the darkness of the blade as if being consumed by it. He turned the blade slowly to look at the edge. When he viewed it edge on, the blade vanished! It was so impossibly thin that he couldn’t even see it except by looking at the flat side.
He brought it up and noted how good it felt in his hand. It was lighter than any steel blade he’d ever held, with most of the weight in the hilt. The tip moved with lightning quickness at the flick of his wrist. Still holding the Thinblade in his right hand, he drew his battle-blunted sword with his left and spun it up in front of him. He held out the fine steel blade and flicked it with the Thinblade.
Alexander wasn’t even sure he felt any resistance. The Thinblade cut his old sword in half with clean precision. He laughed as half the length of his old sword clattered to the floor.
He sheathed the Thinblade, strapped the scabbard to his belt, then gathered up the book and jewelry box almost as an afterthought and pushed through the door of the Bloodvault, smiling broadly.
He handed Lucky the book and jeweled box and drew the Thinblade for all to see. There was silence in the room. Everyone simply stared in awe at the ancient badge of an Island King. He handed Anatoly the hilt half of his old sword. The old man-at-arms examined it and whistled.
Alexander was beaten up and exhausted but he walked with a light step back to the Ranger camp outside in the paddock. He’d endured so much in the past months, but now he was satisfied that he had lived up to the burden he’d been given.
He took Isabel’s hand when they stepped out of the tunnel and into the sunshine of the late winter day. For the first time since he discovered his ancient birthright, he didn’t fear the future.
Here Ends Thinblade
Sovereign of the Seven Isles: Book One
The Story Continues…
I hope you enjoyed reading Thinblade as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’m always trying to improve my stories, and ultimately, you are the best judge of my work, so I’d like to humbly ask for your help. Please click the link below and write a short review. Your honest feedback will help me do a better job in the future and will also help others decide if they would like to read my stories.
David A. Wells