Legends of the Blacksword


For nearly three millennia the fae High Kings ruled from the Shadowless City of Atlan and during that time there were only three ever to wear the Crown—Telamures Ys, Raachu Horeb, and Ghendil Tiamat. The fall of the greatest in power and tyrannical infamy of these Mighty ones, Tiamat, is a legend told more often than the tales of his rule which lasted longer than any before. Betrayed by his chief adviser who was also a human Archmage, Ghendil was cast down, lost to the world perhaps forever. His family and vassals were immediately winnowed by his rivals, who coveted the Crown of Atlan. Those that survived those dark days went into hiding or left the Atlantis altogether to gather their strength for a reckoning…

Ghenma Tiamat, was raised in secret in the manse of his mother’s chief guard, Sulima Lulinwe. Sulima is a peerless champion of the last faerie war and head of a disbanded order called the Dragon’s Handmaidens, so Ghenma is schooled in all that she knows to teach–even the secret techniques of her order. Destined to regain his birthright and restore the realm to its former glory known in the days of Horeb Ra, he must first complete his education in the Arts of Rule, Lore, and Blood. And while hiding in plain sight of his enemies within the Council of Regents, the White Hand assassins cult and the Circle of True Art he must forge a glorious legend around himself and his companions to inspire all peoples of the mystic island continent to unite under his banner to cast down the usurpers. Though he has more allies to his cause than he knows, the greatest aid and the greatest threat to his destined path is his grandfather’s ebon blade, once called Soulbiter.

Despite his grandfather’s legacy of tyranny and dark pacts with powers both ancient and new, Ghenma must establish a rule different from his grandsire, if he can survive long enough to achieve it. His companions, I’kuril Ventii—an orphaned fae sword maiden and druidess of the Green Path and Jadan T’or—the human cursed by the black sword yet granted his fondest wish in the same stroke, outcast from the Hattai clans, will battle against any foe, mortal or immortal, and beyond life for this ultimate quest. Only their undying Love, Courage, Will, and unassailable Power will save the fabled land from a future of chaos and eventual dissolution.

*Part 1 of Chapter One*

Life is an endless story, the adventure that encompasses all that thinks and can grow; death is real but also an illusion, change is the only constant and love is the only thing that transcends all illusions. We children of the Maya are each intimately bound to the magical source of life so naturally we can access any story with enough will. …In over 700 years of life I’ve learned that every story begins in the middle… Erasmus Iru Sage prefect of Aegypt, Atlantis

The comfortably warm autumn afternoon found Ghenma in his favorite meadow high upon the northern side of the blessed mount Meru. He lay in fragrant, tall grass burned golden from the summer sun, practically invisible unless he sat up, but just then his mind was ranging out upon the winds, tasting the forest through his dreams. As he’d been taught by his surrogate mother and mentor, Sulima Lulindra, the mind exists and touches upon many levels of reality beyond the physical and he had opened all three gates of his body that connected to his mind’s eye called the third eye so that all his senses could participate. Only with discipline and practice could one master the powers of the third eye, but his people were the Ealdar fae, whom men called elves and they were known for their far sight. And even among the far-sighted, Sulima had assured him; he should grow into a legend by his blood.

And true to that promise, Ghenma’s senses could already range out into the world around him more easily than his instructor’s, as pervasive as wind or water and that was literally how he pictured it happening; his awareness gushing out from his body’s gates through his pores in the general direction he desired, flowing around and into everything it encountered. Though he often spoke his clairvoyant knowing as ‘tasting’, the sense was like taste, touch, and smell all rolled into one but without logical separation. With practice he found that there were residual benefits from such deep communion with mineral, flora and fauna; out of trance he could sometimes recall the language of beasts and the subtle pattern/harmony to substances, he could mimic the feats and tricks of some animals he’d spent much experiecing. But the world was wide and this mountain was only a tiny part no matter how high and how holy it might be and he longed to range out beyond the horizon even to lands across the sea. But before that dream could become reality he had so much to do and learn. According to Sulima survival alone could become his primary occupation one day soon if he failed to restrain his youthful zeal; for as the only living heir to the throne of Atlan he had inherited many enemies.

But at that moment, Ghenma could barely imagine a living soul that would or could visit harm upon him even though he knew intellectually it was more than possible. The thing was that he was strong; four times stronger than an unusually strong human and swift as wind on his feet for short distances. He could bend bronze bars and hurl a stone or javelin farther than anyone he’d ever met save Sulima Lulinwe. The most skilled martial artist of his race had drilled him every other day for the last 5 years, had taught him several confusing and debilitating mind-tricks that would fool nearly any human and most fae according to her. He’d learned wood craft in the way of the Hattai—by watching animals so that now he could move so quietly among the trees that he could tug a deer’s tail before it knew he was near.  His third eye had gotten strong enough that he could sense mind patterns subconsciously within a four-mile radius except through iron or mountains of rock. And he had the innate faerie ability to slide sideways into silver paths; literally teleporting for short distances but his innate genius led him to an unexpected discovery. He found out a year ago that he could also access the mysterious shadow plane, but Sulima counseled him not to use it often and never to wander those paths long till he had a chance to learn more of that mystic plane from one who had mastery in such things.

All that confidence and ability with the promise of even more beyond what was common to fae kind, it was no wonder that Sulima often said things to bring him out of his pride and to shake his confidence. She would say, “…the greatest fighters fear defeat at every engagement. It is partially by harnessing this negative emotion force that one can achieve improbable feats. We of the Handmaidens know this mind space well, calling it ‘Dawn of Battle’.” Ghenma often wondered if when the time came to test out his skills, would he be ready or would he shame his teacher?

Ghenma sensed the approach of a powerful aura like nothing he’d ever encountered before and his mind went blank for a few seconds. Then he recalled that a warrior should treasure the element of surprise always, choosing the place of engagement when he can—that’s what Sulima would counsel. His senses ranged out with cautious tentacles, but were met with a cold void of mental ice. And too quickly the stranger’s attention turned in his direction, though Ghenma was certain he’d cut the probe off quick enough to prevent the stranger’s locating him. Frantic, the youth sent a splinter of will into a small flock of jays nearby and sent them winging to the general area of concern so that he might see through their eyes what this being was about. Normally, Ghenma could only see faces remotely when he made an astral form of ectoplasm, but that required a full trance which would put him at disadvantage should someone happen upon his body. This was an experiment he’d long thought to try. Through the birds he saw his visitor was a tall humanoid, wearing dark crimson treated leather armor with polished platinum buckles, in a cloak that shifted colors wildly like the surface of a soap bubble, the hood up so that he couldn’t make out the face. There was something familiar about that cloak but, for the life of him, he couldn’t recall it. But, whatever his purpose, this was no man to come calling for nothing. And he rode upon an unnaturally swift stallion the color of old blood, but birds had strange eyes… horses didn’t come in that color…

Ghenma got to his feet, while part of his mind stayed with the jays and another tried to diffuse his aura’s presence among the life force of the forest, and retrieved his sword from its rest against an old oak near the opposite end of the meadow. Since the stranger had already sensed his general location, Ghenma figured he might as well wait so that his ka-energy would be full. Ghenma intended to find out what brought his person to his part of the mountain. A logical part of his mind said to run or hide, but something else told him to stand his ground, putting faith in all he’d been taught, to act, in some small way like the emperor he must become.

Through bird’s eyes he saw the stranger halt at the far side of a stand of young aspens on the opposite end of the field and dismount. He came through these on foot without a sound Ghenma could perceive with his or the bird’s senses to stand several cubits across from the young prince, silent and staring.

“Well? Have you seen enough,” said Ghenma after a few moments, “or was there something or one in particular you were seeking in my woods, sir…”

“Your woods! I think perhaps I’ve found whom I sought,” came the stranger’s cryptic reply. Ghenma frowned at his failure to give his name.

“And who is it you believe you’ve found?”

“There is a test… I would put to you before speaking further of my purpose. Though my skill has brought me this far where others would have failed, I could still be mistaken…”

Annoyed, Ghenma growled, “Enough of this riddling. Are we sages gathered at the market square? Speak your purpose plainly or be gone. I’d come here seeking solitude and now you’ve spoilt it. And then to top all you blather about testing ME?”

Suddenly the stranger was moving, fast as only faerie fighters could, his sword flashing like a silver question, and Ghenma’s answered it easily enough, the years of hours he’d spent sparring with Sulima having done their work well. For several minutes they danced, swords rising and falling to meet with chiming blows often enough to sound more like music to another’s ears than fighting. Ghenma’s heart pounded with excitement at pitting his skill against a total stranger. An hour passed, and still they fought. The stranger had a trick of changing his mass or something because, he would at  times launch blows that seemed to have the weight of a giant behind them and then suddenly he would bounce up, light as a leaf, slowing midair and then falling back faster than he’d arisen, his feet thudding deep pits into the soft earth! Twice, Ghenma’s sword nearly broke parrying such blows, but he managed to turn the edge enough to redirect the momentum each time. Ghenma pulled a trick or two himself that brought a few grunts of surprise from the stranger; the jays he’d released from his mental hold, but then he’d summoned a swarm of wasps he knew to hinder his opponent and nearly blooded him, but the warrior had leaped high, spinning like a whirlwind while letting loose a spirit shout that shattered the spell. Both sweated lightly from the exertion, yet neither was anywhere near winded. The stranger seemed not to be about killing him though and soon it began to feel more like one of Sulima’s tests to Ghenma…

As soon the thought occurred, Ghenma stopped and thrust his sword point angrily into the earth between them. “Enough! Who are you and what do you want with me? If you will not answer my questions then we should fight in truth, with no more of this stupid sparring. I will not be insulted any longer!”

The tall stranger laughed. He dared! And his laughter seemed, nearly hysterical Ghenma noted, echoing weirdly among the trees. “You have indeed the blood of kings in your veins,… my Lord.” And then he solemnly knelt upon one knee and put a fist to his heart after pulling hood down to reveal a square, handsomely rugged face lightly bearded with long, black and white striped hair much like a tiger’s.  His eyes were the typical bronze-gold where humans’ were white and his irises were dark gray-green with orange pupils. His ears were lobe less, pointed to the sky. As he knelt, the stranger’s aura briefly blazed brightly enough to see without effort, in that ancient form of greeting fae kings and nobility established at the dawn of Atlantis.

“I apologize for my rudeness,” said the armored stranger as he looked around carefully, eyes aglow with power. Then he suddenly did a strange thing, his hand sketched an arcane symbol upon the air whose echo left a smudge of quickly fading fire. “But I had to be certain that you were He whom I sought and could not risk uttering your true name and status aloud to an unproven stranger, since you are officially dead. I am the Archduke Tyrgon Arelus Timeris, Ur-Lord of Lyon; faithful vassal to the late Ghendil Tiamat, High King and Dragon Emperor of Atlantis’ and you, I believe, are his Heir.”

Not long before, Sulima was strolling along a grassy ridge of a densely forested hill overlooking a borough of Meringoven in Eald considering all that she’d done for the young heir and all that remained for him to learn before he would be self sufficient. For the past 5 fals, a decade by men’s reckoning, she had drilled him in swordsmanship, archery, hand-to-hand combat, and tactics. She also had tried to keep his mind sharp with studies of the Histories available to her from her own collection of crys-scroll archives, riddles from the Ancient Sages, copies of the Annals from the Arrival, and psionic disciplines that she knew well enough to teach. All the songs and ballads she knew and that could be uttered without rousing suspicion she had taught him so that he was also aware of the beauty and grace the Fae represented in the world. He’d grown into a formidable youth; definitely above average for one his age and she had been hard on him; so there was no softness in the boy. Sometimes she thought she had been too hard, but since his life was almost certain to be one of great struggle, pain, and loss, she would have been remiss in her duty by holding him too close to her heart; that would only weaken him. But she did love him more than she could or would ever admit aloud; he was as dear to her as a child of her own womb would be… At that, her thoughts turned to her other love Lord Tyrgon Aurelus d’ur Timeris, Duke of Lyonesse the only man she could ever bear a child for. So far was he from her yet, the distance hadn’t dimmed the fire he lit in her heart at all; they kept in touch through a most secret and intimate communication, having long ago forged a dream where they could meet or leave messages for each other. Only Ghenma knew of how to access that place save them. Though certainly precious reunions, they paled in comparison to meeting in person. But necessity forced them to remain parted else the Council of Nine or the White Hand cult would take note.

For what had to be the hundredth time that month, she prayed that Ghenma would survive to become all that his grandsire had been and more because that was the kind of power and talent it would take for him to succeed. Her sister Handmaidens were scattered about the land in order to give credence to the rumor they’d spread forty fals ago that they had disbanded. The long seasons of public silence and waiting had taxed their patience to the limit; there was so much wrong to be righted these days, the strong preying upon the weak with little or no fear of punishment by the ‘authorities’ because too often the predators were the authorities. A few more fal… maybe four at most and Ghenma would receive his birthright and his bane, the black sword his grandfather once wielded. The Maligas weapon would magnify the boy’s natural abilities, strength and stamina immeasurably. But, it was vampiric, constantly hungering for blood, pain, and fear; driving its wielder and those within range of its song to rage and insanity. And any soul felled by its curse could be summoned; a vampire maligantim enslaved to the wielder’s whim and sharing his power. Sulima shivered at the thought of Ghenma commanding such horrors, but his grandsire had managed to use them for good so it could be done.

Maligantim were devilishly hard to catch and even harder to kill. They weren’t usually very skilled fighters unless they possessed some before dying, but their faster-than-fae reflexes and strength made them more than competent killers. They also had a portion of the Master’s necromantic power and could corrupt mortals with their venom to create ghoulim, undead monsters who seemed normal on the surface and could walk in direct sunlight; sometimes they could even make lesser vampires called Shadowyn in this way. Shadowyn were what became of those who willingly surrendered to the venom, ghoulim were victims, enslaved by the will of Maliga there are Green path druids who can restore a ghoul to his former state. She and Tyrgon had fought hundreds of these with only a cohort of about a hundred of their finest between them in the halls of the imperial palace back on that fateful day… when Aesurand nearly succeeded with his most insane plot of all. In her heart she knew that somewhere, somehow, the arch mage lived on and her only consolation to that fact was that Ghenma still lived and that the same possibility existed for the Emperor Ghendil. If any one could solve the mystery it would be Ghenma. His formidable charisma and constantly seeking mind were the greatest weapons in his arsenal. But would it all be enough?

And then again there was the black sword… with it, Ghenma would instantly become a force to reckon with by any standard; but the price of its powers was a constant struggle against its primal will to destroy, the possibility of madness or worse, spiritual corruption due to simply possessing too much power too soon.

A feeling came over her, and in her mind, she felt the slightest weight of another’s eyes upon her — they were nearby but diffusing their presence among the natural ma’at of trees and wildlife in a way that few save those with the natural talent could. Anger heated her veins as she shouted, “I don’t know who you are or why you are shadowing me but I suggest you come out else I’ll find you and put you to question the hard way!”

Sulima was surprised to find a woman emerging from the dark woods down the slope from her, dressed in a moss green, double split, hooded robe-tunic and leggings using a knarled branch as a walking stick—at its top impossible blossoms bloomed. As she got nearer, Sulima noted the girl’s regal poise, though she couldn’t have been much over a hundred, the girl had the Presence down cold. Sulima just missed going to her knee by force of will; as if this slip of a girl were a queen!

“My apologies for following you like that. I just had to be certain you were the one I sought.” The girl smiled winsomely, nearly too beautiful with fine features, luminous mahogany skin and startling green eyes with violet pupils, her form as curvaceous as a dancer’s… yet she held the branch-staff as if it were the finest Lemurian-wrought; while exuding peace that barely concealed subtle danger at the same time; like a storm just about to break. “I am I’kuril Venti, Orphan and a seeker of obscure lore, a student of the Annals, and recently, a Druidess of the Green Path.”

“You have strange titles about you, wild Sage I’kuril. And I think your name has touched my ears before this,” Sulima came closer; “Do I know you or your kin?” Her eye dropped to a bauble around the girl’s slender neck. Upon a silver chain fine as spun moonlight was an intricately carved sword of Myr stone against a coin sized medallion. Sulima reached for it without thinking but remembered manners with, “May I?”

I’kuril only nodded and Sulima’s fingers found the warm metal, turning it to read the inscriptions… they swam about, refusing to be deciphered… the thing was warmer than it should be, nearly hot… but it was familiar too… then she remembered and smiled. She had given this to them as a wedding gift.

I’kuril watched Sulima’s reaction closely. “You knew my father, then.”

“Yes, both your parents. You must favor your mother, for I see little of him in you. You named yourself Orphan, so he is risen, I take it?” The girl nodded. “My heart is heavier for the loss. He and I once were rivals, briefly lovers, and ever friends. I missed his wedding campaigning for the Emperor in distant Afric. He never completely forgave me for that, because I didn’t have to go, you see, but I was young and so eager for glory. I managed to send a small gift, this bauble actually… I had nearly forgotten… I heard your mother was Aegyptian and Fae?”

I’kuril’s smile was brittle. “She was. Father would have told me many tales of you had he survived the Council’s treachery and the White Hand’s butchery. My life was shattered that day…” and she went on to describe how she had been forced to hide, using the best trick she’d learned at the young age of fifteen (which for the fae was the same as being nine) was invisibility; and she used it to escape the castle into the Aerosian wilderness. For a time she wandered, she had just enough wood-lore to keep from starving, and was able to steal what she needed otherwise from Men. Nothing in that land could look upon her unless she wished them to. And in time she discovered a talent for illusion as well. Fearing her own kind, not certain who to trust, she had to eventually turn to Men for guidance. She found a middle-aged lord who seemed to have a humble way and had good report from the local peasants and made herself visible at an appropriate time. They made a pact, that she would gain the shelter of his manor under pretense of being a concubine, and he would teach her all that she needed to become self-sufficient secretly while she would serve him with her body and mind. The arrangement worked surprisingly well, and his rule prospered with her aid, while she learned the ways and wisdom of the world as best as he could teach.

But this happiness was short-lived. After fifteen years, a local baron took an unhealthy longing for her beauty to heart and it prompted him to murder. By the time she found out the plot, it was already done; her gentle lord had been killed in an ‘accident’. The evil man had the nerve to attend the funeral, even then making a play for her attentions! She played along, coldly intending to make him pay dear for what he’d done. And pay he did. When she was through, he was rendered cripple, and his sight was forever blurred by a curse that she’d barely known how to cast.

“I cursed his eyes to only see pain and death clearly since he was so eager to bring it upon others, and that his dreams only grant him visions of war. I stabbed him in the leg with my sword, orphan’s tear, and that wound will never heal till I die.” Her eyes glinted, defiant with pain and pride. But needing still.

“You had much talent for one so young and untaught.” Much anger as well she thought. “And all that time you had no contact with your own kind, only humans? Amazing.”

“I survived as best I could. Though after cursing and wounding Amoz, I became a fugitive. But they couldn’t find me of course. For a time I made his life as hellish as possible.”

Sulima chuckled. “I guess death was too good for him, eh?”

Ikuril nodded. “But a life lived for vengeance isn’t much of one at all I found, and soon I left the area altogether, deciding to try to find fae folk who could be trusted.”

“So you did finally get proper instruction.”

“Not as you would think though. I sought secret assassin skills that would get me into the underworld of information gathering, hoping to learn enough to avenge my father and mother. I wanted to tear down those powers that had made my life the travesty it is.”

“Hnm. And how have you fared in that?”

Ikuril looked sharply to see if Sulima made sport of her, “I’ve killed some of those who were responsible, but there are many more who are worthy of death that I couldn’t reach.”

“And?”

“That vengeance was no sweeter than the other. Life is too precious to treat so callously even though the assassins’ guild is lead by those who believe death is only the threshold of higher awareness and alternate experience and a gate into other incarnations within the Karmic wheel.”

“Ah, Death mages and the White hand cult. Don’t tell me you are one of those madmen.”

“No longer–but some few months ago I realized that they were the tool used by the Council of Nine to destroy my father. Originally I’d thought to infiltrate them and use them to get close to the Council and assassinate those who’d ordered my father’s death. But, the White Hand are too depraved, they worship death with each breath while simultaneously seeking a kind of immortality that is unnatural, evil. They perform rites requiring specific types of blood and viscera from humans, djinn and fae… in the end I had to fake my own death to escape them. And even now sometimes I get the feeling… and then I just go as fast as I can and vanish. The inner circle of the White Hand is terrifying, if you sense them hunting you before you’re ready to defend against them leave quick, cause if you see them, it’s already too late.

“Then for years I wandered, trying to cleanse myself of their taint by doing good deeds for those in need. But my power wasn’t enough to make any real difference; my status in our society was nonexistent since as an assassin, one is taught to be a ghost. So again I sought a group, a secret one that had principles similar to mine and who’d accept a halfling into their ranks, I’d heard rumor of the Green Path druidim, among Men and Fae, so…”

“I knew there was something about you! So you found them and they trained you in their Way. The gray-green should have given it away. But I am so preoccupied with my own thoughts…” Sulima’s eyes narrowed, thinking. “So you must have heard rumor of me in the city.”

The girl only said sagely, “A hero aware of his own legend usually is its author,” and that brought a sharp look from Sulima.

“You are a student of the histories, quoting maltreiya Talis. You could be a dangerous woman, Ikuril Venti.”

The beauty smiled. “I am. But I need to become even more dangerous than this to accomplish all that needs doing. And so, my path, though now green, led to you.”

Sulima thought about what she knew of this new druidic cult. Its origin thought to have been within decades of the Emperor’s Fall, this movement was barely two centuries old. But it was spreading like wildfire among Fae and Men alike. Most Ealdar fae were too set in their ways, but some few believed as well evidently. But it was supposed to eschew violence save only as the last resort, this being a life-affirming movement. But Ikuril was an assassin, exactly opposite. An interesting contradiction, but she couldn’t take this girl on as a pupil now. The Heir required all of her attention and the Mission took precedence over all. Too much had already been sacrificed to come this far. And Ikuril was too much of a wild card to trust with the secrets she kept, so this rejection wouldn’t be very convincing to one of her… singular intensity.

“You have come far to receive the answer I must give, and I’m sorry. But, I have a pupil already, and that one requires all I have and will continue to for many fals to come. You are an exceptional woman, I’kuril, one whom in better times, I’d be honored to take on as pupil. But you must be patient a while longer…”

“How much longer,” she said, her voice trembling, “a tenfal, two, or more? We live long, I know, but so much is wrong with our land now. Our civilization was once the greatest on earth and now we slide backward into decadence and corruption from within. Once we were a united front against the world, and now we are riddled with wars within our own borders, while those nations we once caused to tremble grow in power. One day, one or many of them will come to invade Atlantis itself! Will we be ready to face that? I doubt it, especially if we continue on as we are. Something needs to be done now. The Green Path has taught me the interconnectedness of all things, and I’ve seen beyond even what my masters sought to teach, for I know now that we must become the hand of earth’s own spirit. We must be the catalyst for change. I hold the vision in me, but I am still too weak… You know, I’ve read the Year of the Fall by Asa Tuon. Of all the heroes in those days you were the best, and probably still are. What you have to teach can empower the movement to become a force even the Council must bow to.”

“You have great dreams, I’kuril Venti, great dreams. But you sound more like one who seeks to convert than to learn.”

I’kuril blushed. “I admit I sought little of both. But that too is the Way. Life itself is change and in the process, knowledge, power, substance, and essence are exchanged … but you’ve refused me. What if… what if I only met you here? At the times you come to meditate, if we just talk. Even such small exchanges could yield fine fruit in me don’t you think?”

This girl’s charisma nearly rivaled Ghenma’s own, thought Sulima. She came near to agreeing against her own counsel! “Stop. Do you really think you’re the only one who dreams of a healthy, strong, united Atlantis? The only one who has had loss and experienced hardships at the hands of the new, corrupt regime? The only patriot plotting in the shadows to tear down what has spread like cancer in the flesh of our great land? You are not! I’ve seen 421 summers by men’s reckoning, and in that time served many causes but kneeled to but one King. Now he is gone. And in his absence, the entire world has gone mad. Now, it will take more than just you, more than just me, more than all these other individuals to make a difference; I agree we should unite under one vision. But I ask that you trust my wisdom, my years, my ability to plan and see it through, though I can supply only few details… Girl, do you even know who I am?”

“I suspected that you could either be Demetria the Lioness or Tamar Zenobi, also called the Blade Voice, or Sulima Lulindra, the Sorcerer slayer. But you can’t be Demetria because she is an Ogress while you are obviously an Elf, but I’m not sure which of the others you are. They both were Handmaidens of the Dragon, though. I guess there is a way to find out…” And suddenly, the girl was in motion, staff arcing toward Sulima’s midsection. Sulima just managed to step forward enough to block the girl’s hands from completing the strike, but then Ikuril dropped and fanned out a kick that dropped her like a stone, though she was up again just as swiftly.

The fight was quick but furious, though to a human’s eye there would have been little to see, swirlings of dust and leaves, sudden thunders resulting in dents or grooves in the soil, between moments the two paused before another flurry of invisibly swift passes…

Sulima was extremely impressed by this masterful display of skill for one so young, after several minutes, she had yet to make successful attack, forced to remain on the defensive! Though, granted, she wasn’t truly exerting herself yet. Ikuril feinted left, then followed through with a right to Sulima’s midsection, sending her flying several yards only to land one knee to the deeply furrowed earth. That’s quite enough of that, she thought. This time, as the young warrior came at her, Sulima called up her inner strength, anticipating the motion before the event. A spinning grab, timed to perfection had I’kuril by the neck and waist, with a twist at he hip; Sulima hurled the girl to the ground as if she were weightless. The girl got up, slower, but still full of fire, but again, Sulima outmaneuvered her, this time stepping inside the strike and using her shoulder and elbow to stun and disarm Ikuril. Again ending with a painful throw.

“Alright, you are Sulima Lulindra, or I don’t know anything,” Ikuril panted, drawing strength from the earth in an odd way.

“You’re good, for a stripling. But the staff isn’t your usual weapon, so you only could do so well.”

“This sword is only for enemies. I only sought to know you better by your fighting style, my apologies if I offended you sufi.” And she quickly bowed.

“Still you call me teacher. Well, I’d be honored to teach one as yourself; such talent, such vigorous spirit!” Indeed, Sulima thought, this one could in a decade surpass even herself if she would train her! She longed to see this girl in a true fight. “But my present circumstances remain for now and so does my answer to you. But you’ve impressed me…”

“If that is true then, sufi, please allow me to invoke right of Riddle and Quest of you since I am worthy but unable to be taught properly!”

Sulima forgave the impertinent interruption, surprised at the girl’s lore knowledge. “A true student of the histories! Few of the Handmaidens recall that tradition.” For a while she thought. It was truly a shame that she had this burden of mentoring the Heir back into power; such a girl came along seldom… beautiful beyond even that common to her kind, yet so strong, so competent and intelligent. Such a girl would be worthy of a king, an emperor… But this would have to handled delicately. Neither Ikuril nor Ghenma had the temperament to take such arranged pairing well. And of course there was so much to do, so much he still had to learn. This had to be nurtured so that in the end, they believed it their own idea. She had to be brought into the fold.

“I have a riddle quest perfect for such a spirited soul. Heed it well and we may meet again sooner than you think.  Find you what heir unknown to kingdom that both is and is not, to learn what curse would he would bind to his purpose though it seek to thwart the same, and aid him in his own quest to regain what was stolen by means of secret might, and gain a greater lesson than any sufi might bestow thereby; in the shadows ever seek him, as they haunt him he haunts them, and even the mountain’s know his name though few men or fae recall it.

“So I have to help this person in his quest. But first I have to find him though he doesn’t seem to want to be found?”

“Correct.”

“Is he an elf or ogre, human or changeling?”

“I cannot say for certain since at times he can seem as any of those. His lineage is highly suspect. My only hint is that you should remain about the area, keep on the watch for unusual events in lonely places. Trouble follows this one like a spurned lover, I’ll bet. And you have to learn his true name to fulfill this quest.”

“That means I should have to gain his trust. This is too hard! I’ll be at this for years.”

“Possibly. But that is the tradition. The rigors of the quest should keep you at the edge of readiness and your mind occupied as is fitting. The time will fly, watch and see. Forget it if you wish, but only by solving this riddle will we meet again sooner than late.”

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