Now, like I said, this is the chapter that BEGINS the real plot, so sit tight! ~IX~ ********* The Golden Blade It begins tonight! Tamassi defeated another Gan-Chuta. Who are you?! He asked in frustration. No answer. The silver blade he held flashed and killed any Gan-Chuta that dared attack him. He heard a scream as one of the Frax-Guard were killed. Tamassi panted, the whole insanity whirled around him like a pottery wheel. In fact, he was almost dizzy. One by one, slowly, each tent was lit afire. The men were scattering, the Gan-Chuta were separating him. Tamassi fought along side Grah and the same curious Frax-Guardman who asked, “What the bloody void are these things?!” Grah grunted as he finished a Gan-Chuta with his whirling spear that never stopped rotating in a blur. “Gan-Chuta!” he managed to reply, before taking on another opponent. Tamassi focused on his own enemy, blocking a crippling blow to his knee, he pushed away the ax that swung there and then countered at the beast’s neck. It died gurgling in its throat. Now, an overwhelming number of Gan-Chuta charged at them, and started to push them away from the camp. The same was transpiring for the men on the other side. Then is occurred to Tamassi, where in the void are some bloody Coulani when you need them? Again, he killed a Gan-Chuta that was replaced by two more. Stars! STARS, BLOODY STARS! The camp was only recognizable by a small flame in the distance when he got a look. Normally his vision was blocked when he battled a burly or sometimes quite bony Gan-Chuta. They were dispatched quickly. Gan-Chuta seemed to have one fatal flaw. They had no fighting technique. They just swung blindly with their weapon as hard as they could hoping to crack the opponent’s bone and then kill them. They could easily be killed with the elegant sword technique that the Frax-Guard practiced. Except, now and then, Tamassi heard a death cry from a human. The cries from the Gan-Chuta were guttural now, and filled with pure rage and frustration. Grah killed another with his whirl-pool spear technique not even glancing at the corpse, just moving on to the next. A line of Gan-Chuta corpses stretched from where they had left the camp to where they were now. They were pushed into an intersection, and now the Gan-Chuta divided Tamassi, Grah, and the panting guardsman to three different paths. The Prince didn’t care anymore; he gripped his sword, dispatched the Gan-Chuta in front of him, and then turned and fled down the stone street. His boots echoed with a wet sound off of the ground. He was sure they would have been louder had cries and clashes and clangs not rang through the ruined fortress. Tamassi could hear some Gan-Chuta pursuing him, but he was gaining ground and they were losing. Fatigue gripped his legs, but he ignored it. They ached now, but he told them to keep running, to get away from the pursuers. It begins tonight! He ran on. What begins tonight? No bloody answer. He gave an exasperated sound from his mouth. It was not a sigh, far from it. To forget his legs’ pain he focused on the way ahead, the narrow street enclosed by high, decaying walls on each side was very linear, and when it combined with another intersection, it stayed linear from there on in. This truly was a labyrinth. He was sure it had some dead-ends somewhere! And there was. He nearly crashed into the ending path. A ladder broken in half would have allowed him passage up. But the ladder still attached was too high for them. Tamassi turned and gripped his sword in both hands. He would stand, kill his pursuers, and find his father. The Gan-Chuta never came. A bloody miracle! Something was wrong. The cool night air turned chill, and it seemed that ice floated on the autumn air. It never got this cold in Coulan. A mist appeared at the end of the dead-ended alley he was in, in Torah Noma. The mist formed a woman. Her hair was deep black, and hung well below her waist, it had been growing a while. Eyes of hazel stared down at him, and skin whiter than snow seemed to light up the dim alley. Her skin wore a wicked luster that was hideous and beautiful. Her lips were cherry red and a worn bridal gown with a tear or two was her garb. Pearls were sewn in at the base of the dress. I’ve seen her before. No, them! She stared at him, and then a sword of ice appeared in her hand in a flash of flowing, ice-coloured mist. The Maiden of the Empress—as they were named in the north, in Coulan she would be named Dsuc-Yeahwpiq—moved toward him, no floated! It seemed that she floated, but with each leisure and elegant step her sword became more raised. As she neared, she pointed it vertical from her and placed her other palm on the bottom of the hilt. It seemed that he was frozen in place. The chill that drifted on the night breeze emitted from her and held him in place. He was immersed in her beauty. It begins tonight! With that thought, the trance was broken and he dodges a clear blow that smashed the wall behind him. A chunk of stone fell from where she had hit the dead-end wall after a second’s hesitation. That cannot hit me! He moved to the side as she lunged and spread himself the cylinder wall of a tower connected to the square wall of the alley. She struck again with an icy fury. He lifted his blade to block. It did, and the silver shattered in shards large and small. They were strewn all over the alley way and he ducked from a head shot. The tower shook as the blade rang against the stone. No weapon, no allies near, stars! Another slash of the ice blade had Tamassi shift to the side and the tower shook more vigorously this time. It was very, very ancient. What if it topples? He asked himself looking up at the tower, decaying parapets on the top. And that’s when he saw something gold glint in the light hanging out one of the parapets. He shifted to the other side to dodge a blow and the tower vibrated making a deep rumbling sound. Frustration was painted across the Maiden’s face. More of what looked like a hilt and blade slid out of the lined wall atop the tower. It no longer resisted and gravity pulled the rest of it down with the revealed part. It fell quickly, and as the Maiden raised her sword to kill young Tamassi, he grabbed the platinum hilt of this last hope and clashed with the Maiden, holding and looking into her hazel eyes focusing on him. Hope was shining on him, but Stars he was tired! As he pushed and pushed into the clash, the Maiden broke it pushing him back and striking lower, so he parried lower and countered to create another long clash. As she stared at him, worry painted those hazel eyes, she had never before—except once—faced a sword that did not shatter from her own. Tamassi smirked and gave a stronger push when she lost some power wondering why he smiled. Some engravings on the blade flashed crimson and her sword shattered. The Maiden of the Empress was catapulted to the wet stony ground and panted. He lowered the tip to her chest, and she held her arms up in surrender. Eyes rolling like a horse spooked at the blade. “You deserve to die,” stated Tamassi, emotionless face staring down at her. He didn’t care if he scared her, she was the enemy. “A part of me begs to die, but I cannot!” He edged the tip closer suddenly and she gasped closing her eyes and turning her head sideways, whimpering and muttering some plea for life. “Apparently, you can.” said Tamassi smiling, victorious twice now. “Why do you fear this blade?” “You are not my master!” her head darted up at him and spat! He stepped back and avoided it, but then a flash of mist erupted and faded. She was gone. “Damn!” he cursed and through the blade to the ground. Everything flooded back to him. Father! He looked down and actually observed the sword for the first time. He knelt down to it, and placed fingers underneath its blade to bring it closer. It had a platinum hilt with an ivory sphere embedded into the hilt. Strange markings of an old language or script glinted in the moonlight. He could not read it. The blade was gold. How is that possible? Gold is too heavy and too soft for a sword! He knew there were no karats in it; a blind feeling told him so. Then how? Along the blade were other, larger symbols. Curves and circles that had no end, crimson light fading from them slowly. Some of the markings resembled an upside down “L” and another upside down “L” with it pointed the opposite way. Some dead language. Yet, he would keep it. It seemed valuable and he knew it was powerful. A bloody Snow Daughter fears it, which has got to be useful! He then looked down at the scattered shards of his war blade along the alley. You were a good sword. He said to himself. He sheathed the golden blade in his empty sheath, which fit perfectly. Good. Then he remembered his father and the camp again. He could see his muddy footprints and followed them along his twisting and turning path. This place is a bloody maze! I wonder how it could have fallen when the enemies would have got dizzy from trying to find a place in here. Eventually, he came back to the camp. The tents that had been set afire smoldered in a crumpled heap, but his tent and another were still intact. There was silence, no more clanging or cries echoing. The large fire in front of all the tents blazed and reflected off of wet walls and streets in the distance. He felt…lonely. Is my father dead? Most likely. He didn’t even remember how to get home from Torah Noma. He couldn’t go to the Council. Tamassi had to somehow get home and tell his mother and sister. Somehow. Which way is north? All that running through those confusing streets of Torah Noma—the ruined Gotherin fortress—had destroyed his sense of direction. He could search for Xuqidp Kuqi. No. But he could gather his things, leave, and somehow find someone to tell him which way to go. He ducked into the tent and looked through his things. Clothes might be needed. He chose some shirts and trousers, not caring about coats. His cloak would suffice. In both his and Aramin’s bags he searched for rations and found some. He packed most of it; he wouldn’t need it all, surely. His new sword would stay in its sheath. He heard trotting and whinnying outside. I guess I have everything, He exited the larger tent and looked around. Wind Spear came from another direction, searching left and right with a confused look. A trusty steed! Oh, I guess I would need a saddle…and reins. In the tent, he gathered all of the riding equipment and some little bags of mixed oats and grains. When Wind Spear spotted him, he jogged over to his master. It gave an “I’m so glad to see you!” type of nose, and snuggled it nose into his chest. He cooed and made comforting noises, rubbing his neck while placing the saddle, and getting the stallion ready to ride. How fortunate! “There we go.” he said as the saddle was tied on. He added everything else necessary, and then fed the horse a handful of the mixed grains. Wind Spear gladly crunched the food for a while. Tamassi kept rubbing; making sure the horse was not spooked, or nervous. Poor Wind Spear must have been really frightened when those Gan-Chuta attacked. The other horses must have fled or are dead. Finally, Tamassi felt his mount was ready. He attached the bags with the essentials to find out how to get home, and then hopped on the saddle. Gently, he patted the higher part of Wind Spear’s neck and whispered, “Huuy woqdi!” It was Coulanish, and he had trained in the Citadel of the Dragyari where the learning of Coulanish was mandatory. It was also said that animals’ languages were the closest to Coulanish. With a quick and gentle heel to the ribs, Wind Spear jogged down one of the narrow streets. It took a good hour or two for Tamassi top find the outermost walls. Eventually he found the destroyed mossy gates. Or maybe, it was another gate. In the siege, they may have all been disjointed! With Wind Spear, he descended the ridge. The darkness of night was growing fainter and slowly, one-by-one each star winked out of existence. I guess the Star Kings have to sleep too! It was nearing twilight when he found a road among the trees. Well, he thought, I better get started! Another soft, but firmer heel had Wind Spear galloping down a road. Wait doesn’t the Sun rise in---Oh! Damn Torah Noma! I can’t bloody remember my star-forsaken directions! The galloping continued, and Tamassi didn’t know if he rode north, south, east, or west.