Joudaar swung his spear in a low arc. The weapon was singing a vicious song as it cut through the air. His eyes followed the spearhead as it tore an invisible line between him and his target. In doing this he was able to look at those standing before him.
As it happens when one is in dire peril, Joudaar felt the world around him slow. He noticed the man on his left, blonde hair and eyes the colour of rusty iron, tug desperately at his boot, his chest lined with scars. A Rundell. Family members shared the unmistakable eye colour. Not good. In addition to eye colour, the Rundell’s were known for being hardy warriors.
Rundell managed to get his boot on and avoid the spearhead. Joudaar’s eyes settled on the next person in line. The woman was of a height with Joudaar himself and already wearing a a shirt of chain and a helm. Her hair an interesting mix of orange and blue.
His thoughts were disrupted as the three stepped forward towards him. Rundell and the woman brandished swords and the last had a vicious long handled axe.
Joudaar drew the symbol for dirt high in the sky, made the tenuous link and leaped back. He moved just in time and the dirt he was standing on exploded up over his head. If anything, it was a shower of topsoil and grass and not the calamity of earth and rock he was after.
The three were surprised enough and still covering their heads as Joudaar’s eyes blurred slightly before they settled once more on the young woman before.
Not many people in the Empire had access to hair dye, fewer still to colours like that. Her face obscured, Joudaar attempted to identify her by the small lion-shaped clasp that secured her cloak. Lions are popular. Such an appealing sigil. Rich lions are less common. Orange and blue lions even more so.
That narrowed down the possibilities and eventually he settled on her being a member of the Wanterly family. Right colours, right sigil, right company.
Rundell and Wanterley were both wealthy families. They had more than enough money to ensure their heirs, no matter how far down the line, were well trained and armed. Joudaar could tell that these two were trained Farense, not just nobles playing at sword fighting.
With the Imperial bans, not many dared carry swords. Those who did either resided beyond the grasp of the law or were members of the Emperor’s hand. An elite group of men and women devoted to their art. Masters of their craft. The Farense were feared and revered in equal parts. Just my luck to stand on the same field as the sword saints.
Joudaar began to retreat towards his own sword. While he was not Farense, he was no slouch either. Perhaps I can show them a trick or two, he though as a familiar fire began to burn deep on the pit of his stomach. The trees around him exploded into vivid greens and browns. They looked as though they were hurriedly painted by a child who had let the brown and green mix.
A shirtless Rundell, full of venom, pressed forward sending Joudaar scampering like a kicked dog. Rundell’s movements were aggressive and far from the snakelike fluidity that Farense were know for. His blade, however, was no less sharp. He thinks me some hedge wizard. The fire stoked, Joudaar drew his sword from the dirt and blood where it lay.
Wanterley hung back, her body language relaxed, content to let her colleague work up a sweat. Urquhart, the third member of this coterie stood, stringing a particularly nasty looking bow. It was as black and a moonless night. To Joudaar’s eyes, it seemed like it was giving off thick, black tendrils of smoke. The colour of it seemed light in comparison to the black hand that was emblazoned upon his chest plate. Of the three, Urquhart was the only one who was fully armoured. He was also the only one who Joudaar wanted alive.
Attention divided, Joudaar was almost decapitated by Rundell. At the last minute, he managed to jump back. The blade cut deeply into his leather jerkin. A searing pain bloomed across his collarbone. He saw a line of bright red poppies blooming along the cut. Joudaar grit his teeth, cursed and retreated into the trees with Rundell closely behind.
‘Steady,’ the order was delivered in a calm, dispassionate tone. ‘Wound, but do not kill.’ An arrow thudded into a tree. It’s shaft and fletching a deeper-than-midnight black. A think, black fog spewed out from where it struck the tree.
‘Yes, my lord,’ came Rundell’s reply. In that instant, that minuscule amount of time where a man’s attention is divided between responding to a command and chasing down a wounded enemy, Joudaar chose to strike.
His sword was an extension of his arm. It moved with the precision one has over any of their limbs. Joudaar struck out left and then right. Cutting motions, smooth and controlled. Similar to a child clearing away a spiderweb.
‘Bastard cut me!’ The curse was punctuated with a shriek. For Joudaar, the sound of it was akin to a rockslide.
Joudaar spun around a tree and stabbed with his blade. The sound of two blades colliding filled his ears. He spun again, this time in the opposite direction, and cut low. His reward was the blade biting into the flesh above Rundell’s knee.
The fire now ablaze within Joudaar’s chest. It warmed him from within, yet he knew his skin would be oddly cold. Colder than most corpses.
Before he had time to finish his gruesome task, a black shadow streaked past his face. Hissing and cursing. It took a moment for Joudaar to realise that this was an arrow. With a grunt, he began to retreat deeper into the forest. The click clack of Wanterley’s chain shirt following him.
Battling with mental and physical exhaustion, as well as highly trained adversaries, the most dogged of fighters would be looking for escape. Not Cahden Joudaar. Not now. He ran hard in a wide arc, doubling back towards the clearing and the camp. All the while, he dodged branches and managed to escape the barrage of arrows aimed his way.
The air felt like it was thin. The earlier freshness dissipated.
Soon he stood with his back to the campfire. The effort of a prolonged battle wearied his body. The over reliance on the Aether taxed his mind. His vision was blurred. Shapes moved towards him. One large and black, enveloped by thick fog. The other was made up of two colours and moved with a serpentine swiftness.
‘Not yet. Not now.’ In Joudaar’s mind he was screaming, but in reality it came out as barley more than a whisper.
He circled around the camp fire. Which now resembled a bonfire. The type that most villages built during the winter solstice. Except this one was all blue and white flame. He kept moving until his enemies were between him and the flame.
Joudaar felt so hot. How could they stand being so close to it. Surely it would burn them. Burn them. A voice scream at him. He looked around, panic exploding through his body. He could not tell if it was his voice, or if it came from the bushes.
Either way, he knew what he had to do. He dipped his finger in the blood on his chest and wrote the symbol for fire on his sword.
The Fog moved remarkably like a man jumping to the ground. The Snake screamed and added a searing white to her colours.
Cahden Joudaar felt the warm dirt on his cold, corpselike skin.
CW SY 2013