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Round Robin 1.3: The Saga Continues Again

Daniel dropped the sword, and stepped toward Marcus. The older man flinched, and Daniel drew back.

"I'm okay." Marcus assured him. "But just don't come near me right now."

"I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me. I--" The words came out in a rush, but Daniel was too ashamed to finish them. He ran away from Marcus, and towards the entrance of the cave. He had to get away. Something was happening to him that he didn't understand. He had almost killed Marcus!

Marcus watched him go. That elven blade...was it the type that took over its Master? Daniel certainly had been unaware of what he'd been doing. His hands were still ringing from the impact of the sword hitting the staff.
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The warmth of the fire did not reach the mouth of the hidden cave and the chill was bracing. Daniel's body shivered as the cold lanced through his clothes, yet it barely registered in his brain as he stood at the mouth.

Gods! I almost killed Marcus! his mind raced. Just like the men in Takuro! Oh gods! Was that me? Or the blade? Oh gods, what have I done? What have I done?

"You're going to freeze if you keep standing there."

The half-elf boy turned with a start. Marcus stood nearby, his staff in one hand, and the elven blade in the other.

"Marcus," Daniel stammered, "I thought you didn't want me near-"

"Lad, that was a joke. No harm done. Well, almost no harm done," he added glancing at his favored weapon.

"But, I-"

"You reacted with an unfamiliar weapon like someone who's been on his guard for days," Marcus said firmly, "and now I have a new gash in this thing. Deep one too. Still, you were lucky"

"...I was lucky?"

"Yes. Lucky it was me behind you and not someone who isn't a paranoid bastard. Otherwise you might have hurt someone."

Ashamed, Daniel turned back towards the night.

Marcus sighed. "Now listen to me lad. There's something you need to understand."

He couldn't tell if he was getting through to the boy, but pausing only to adjust his glasses, he plunged on none the less.

"I'm sure you've heard that people say that a weapon is an extension of the wielder, body and soul, two as one. The thing is, with elven craft, it's a bit more...accurate. I'm not sure I can explain it, I don't quite understand it myself, but a master elven craftsman imbues a bit of a spirit in his work - No, not a spirit, but a force... there really isn't a word for it our tongue."

"You mean the sword is alive and attacked you?"

"No lad. But it can magnify what you're feeling, possibly more. And right now, you're tired and you've been through much that you don't understand, and I suspect you're worried about a lot of things, am I right?"

Daniel gave a reluctant nod.

"Thought so. Now take this."

He pressed the grip of the elven blade into the boy's hand. "Remember," he told Daniel, "this blade may be an extension of you, but in the end, you have to be the one in control. You need focus and purpose, otherwise the blade controls you and bad things happen, just like back there. Remember, without a wielder, it's just a piece of pretty metal. Now, I can teach how it's used, but you have to choose how to use it. Do you understand?"

"...I think so."

"Good. We'll continue the lesson on the morrow. I swear, only a damned fool would keep talking here when there's space by the fire."

With that, Marcus made his way back into the cavern.
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The chink of armor woke Robin up with a start. She didn’t stir or dare open her eyes, but the sound of the chain armor echoed in the cave. Where ever the sound emanated, it wasn’t too close. Cracking open her eyelids, she scanned the cavern floor for her gear.

For her sword.

The quiet chink of armor moved about rapidly. Whoever they were, they were on the move. She couldn’t tell how many there were, but there was more than one at least. Robin slipped her hand around the hilt of her blade before drawing it to her side.

Damn, she thought. They found us. She squeezed her eyes shut and grimaced. They’re here for the rest of Javon . Tightening her grip around her sword, Robin flung off her covers and rolled to her feet. She drew her sword... spoiling for a fight.

The child of eight ran about the entrance of the cave wearing a red tabard. She was chased by a boy her age wearing chain gauntlets much too large for his hands. Another child was there too, but summarily sat on the floor and crossed her arms... a scowl on her face as the other two ignored her.

Robin happily lowered her sword as she saw the children playing in the morning light and giggled. Turning around, she returned her sword to pile only to notice some of her gear missing.

“Little brats,” she giggled. “Swiped my armor.”

* * *

Large chunks of wood flew with each sword strike.

Marcus stood from a distance as he gauged the young man’s skill with the blade. Daniel continued his assault on the wooden post he used for target practice. He was moving faster and faster with each attack.


More splinters flew as Daniel drew his sword down upon the post.


Daniel broke away from his assault, allowing Marcus to approach. He noted that the boy didn’t even break a sweat, even with all the wood chips lying around. The post was severely damaged in the short time the boy practiced.

“Marcus,” he responded with a smile. “That felt good.”
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Marcus felt a chill with Daniel's declaration. I bet it did, lad. He thought worriedly. "Daniel..." He began, then shook his head. "Never mind."

"What?" Daniel asked, confused.

"You are a good person, Daniel. Don't let this war destroy you." That sword...he was almost certain now that it was taking control over Daniel. Somehow, he had to get rid of it before the boy was lost. He had to think of a way to make the sword vanish without Daniel suspecting him.

Perhaps late at night...

* * *

Daniel had decided to go out to get some air. The inactivity for the past few days was getting on his nerves. He wanted to get out there and fight Balthus. Even the practise drills that Marcus gave him wasn't keeping him satisfied. He wanted to feel cold steel slice through skin and bone.

This sword was meant for fighting; not attacking wooden targets. He had pretended to be content so no one worried about him, but if they didn't move on soon, he would move out on his own. Balthus had to be stopped.

Footsteps sounded behind him, and he automatically drew his sword. He swung around, sword raised...

Robin stared at him wide-eyed, her face stark white. "Danny..." She whispered.
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Daniel barely managed to redirect the swing as it sped towards Robin. Instead of flesh, the blade embedded itself in the soil.

"Robin, I- oh gods, I didn't see you there!"

Robin stood in shocked silence, but only for a moment. She smirked at him. "If this is how you play soldier Danny-"

"No, Robin I... GODS! I hate this! Three days. Three days of following an army and we're still no closer than when we left Javon!"

Frustrated, he sat down heavily on a rock and rubbed his eyes.

"Well," said Robin, "I was going to tell you dinner was ready in the tent, but..."

She sat next to him. "Training not going well?"

"It's going fine," he snapped. "We're just moving too slow."

"And what would happen if we caught up tomorrow?"


"You'd wave that thing at them, and then all those soldiers would swarm all over you and you'd be dead."

Daniel opened his mouth to protest, and stopped. After a moment he asked "When did you become the sensible one?"

"I don't know... Scary isn't it?"

"Very," he chuckled.

Daniel looked at the sword still stuck in the ground. There was power in it, he could feel it now every time he picked it up. But this power, it made him feel almost drunk every time he held the blade in his hands. Marcus had said he needed to be the master, but it was like fighting a strong current, it was easier to ride the force rather than fight against it.

"Think Javon's going to be okay?" Robin's voice pulled him from his thoughts.

"I don't know. I think so. Someday."

"Come on, food's getting cold."

Daniel sighed. "Right behind you." He sheathed the sword, but before he followed her, he looked back the way they'd come and wondered.

* * *

Hallah opened her eyes.

Firelight danced off the uneven stone of a cave ceiling of somewhere unfamiliar. She found herself wrapped in warm blankets, her seared arm bandaged with fresh cloth. She tried to sit up but found she was too weak to do more than prop herself up with her elbows.

"Hallah! You're awake!"

She turned to see Elyse the weaver bustle over to her side.

"Here, drink this dear," the matronly woman said and offered her a cup cool water which the girl drank eagerly.

"Where..." Halla began.

"The caves outside Javon," answered Elyse, pouring her some more water. "You've been asleep for days Hallah, ever since Alston brought you back, praise the gods. We thought you were lost too."

"Alston? Where-"

Elyse shook her head. "Not here I'm afraid. Said there was something he had to do. Bartel tried to stop him, but he just grabbed some supplies and left all alone. Foolish boy."

Hallah stared into the cup. Not alone, she thought. There was someone else, she couldn't quite place who in the fog of her memory, but there was someone else there with Alston as he tried to take her home.
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It was hard to move silently with all the dense brush. Even harder when trying to catch up to someone who slipped through the woods with ease. Alston kept finding telltale traces of her passage; a broken limb here, a slender footprint there. And as fresh as they were, the elf girl must have been close.

“And I promise you, that human will have the walking dead outnumber the living very soon if he has his way.”

Those were her words, he reminded himself. The moment they neared his home, she had already taken off. Not much was left of the village but the safe havens of their concealed shelters and caves. Not much he could do to stop her while he had to get Hallah to safety.


As annoying, bratty, as prissy as she is...

The terrifying sound of a whistle followed by a sudden knock had stunned Alston. No more than an inch from his head had an arrow passed by only to strike an elm behind him. Quickly grabbing hold of another tree as leverage, he swung himself around and dove behind heavier foliage.

Using his hands to peel apart some of the branches, he made a small hole to spy through. Even from twenty yards away, the slender figure looked annoyed. After lowering her bow, she pulled back the hood of her cloak that hampered her aim. The elf girl’s gaze bore down upon Alston, even concealed as he was. She was staring right at him

“You could have killed me,” he shouted.

With a near impassive tone, she muttered “That... was... the point.”

His face blanched. She tried to kill me?

“Gods, you are naive,” she then shouted, almost smiling. Shaking her head, the motioned for him to approach. “I never expected you would have pursued me, boy.”

Warily rising from his cover, he kept his focus on the girl before him. Now, with her hood pulled back, he could see her more clearly. She still looks like she’s fifteen, he muttered. Her amber blonde hair was clearly tied back and her bow stayed by her side. Her cloak parted in the front to reveal the leather armor she bore and a bulge in the fabric gave a hint where he expected a sword to be worn.

“I wish you would stop calling me that,” he mumbled. “You’re younger than me.”

“You think so?” she replied, raising an eyebrow.

He stopped for a moment, glancing at her with questioning eyes. Inwardly, she chuckled. Outwardly however, she still remained as expressionless as before. She didn’t care much for humans, and didn’t relish the idea even being near them. But this roundie was somehow able to track her. He was either very good, or very lucky.

I may need a little of that luck.
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"What do you mean?" Alston inquired.

"Never mind." She replied coldly. "I'm not going to tell you to stop following me. I don't think you'd listen anyway. But you'd better keep up, or I'll leave you behind."

"I'll keep up." He said just as coldly. "I'm Alston. What do you call yourself?"

"Nala." She said, an obvious lie. Actually, her name was Elyssa, but she saw no reason to tell a roundie her real name. In fact, why didn't she just kill him and get rid of him? It wasn't like she would feel any regret. Elves had disliked humans as much as humans disliked elves for over a millenia. This wouldn't be the first time that she'd killed a human anyway. "Let's go."
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Alston nodded and followed after her. She moved like a ghost through the landscape, fluid and soundlessly. He knew he couldn't match her for stealth, but hopefully he'd learn enough quickly enough to do some good.

Samantha was alive, that bit of news left a warm glow inside. He'd been worried for her and had been sorely tempted to try to visit, but this was more urgent - the elf girl Nala had plans for those butchers and if he could help, he would gladly.

Even if she didn't like him very much.

They'd been traveling for about an hour when she finally stopped at a ridge overlooking the river valley. Part of it was covered in glowing specks of the embers of many campfires in the faint pre-dawn light.

Alston blew into his gloved hands. A fire would be nice about now, but he knew complaining would do no good. She was testing him, he could tell.

"Hmmm" he heard her mutter under her breath.

"What?" he whispered.

She didn't respond, continuing to study the soldier's camp far below. What is she looking for? he wondered. Or maybe, WHO is she looking for? he mentally added, remembering when he found her with Hallah.

"You know, if you told me what you were looking for, I might be able to help," he added quietly.

Still no response.

Alston sighed. Well, this was going well.

He looked out over the camp again. There were only a few men visible, the last watch of the night no doubt. Otherwise the camp was quiet. They'd be moving again in the morning, probably east judging from their progress so far. He tried to remember what towns were to the east, if he left now would he be able to warn them of the coming soldiers? Would it do any good?

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nala silently get to her feet. Hr quickly scrambled after her.

"You saw something?"

"Just try not to make any noise."

"In other words, yes."

She ignored him and started to make her way down the slope into the valley.
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Near the base of the hillside were two soldiers in green and silver armor. As dark as it was, the green of their vestments easily blended them with their verdant surroundings.

"Man, it's freezing," compained one of the two. "We've been here for hours. When will we get to see some more action?"

The other soldier squinted his eyes as he scanned the horizon. Dawn was soon approaching.

"It's finally happening, though. All the years. All the planning. And Balthus returning," he continued. "Wow."

Movement near the hilltop caught the other soldier's attention. A stirring in the grass. Slipping his hand around to the bow strapped to his back, he keeps his eyes focused on the brush.

"It sure does seem like an honor to work for the Balthus the Dark."

Arrow knocked... the bowstring pulled back and ready. The soldier waited patiently.

"It looks like everything we planned will be coming happening now."


The arrow was loosed. A small, shrill squeal sounded as the soldier hit his mark. The rabbit shuddered then fell limp.

"Nice shot."

From behind the two, another soldier arrived. After placing his gloved hand upon the silent guard's shoulder, the silent guard turned on his heels and walked towards the camp.

"Oh, man," the first soldier moaned as he watched his partner walk away.


"That guy just wouldn't shut up."

* * *

Time was running out as dawn approached.

Elyssa didn't really care if Alston was able to catch up or not. He was just a convenience. If he was able to follow and not get caught, she could use him for more menial tasks. If he was spotted, she would just use him as a decoy. For her, he was a mere tool.

He has to be here, she grimaced. That bastard.

She spotted him entering the camp days ago, like a wounded dog returning to the rest of the pack. He must be licking his wounds, she thought. Her prey wasn't one to be trifled with. He's killed hundreds for the dark order. Killed or worse.

As he did her mother.

Douleurs is going to die.
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[ Kalier passes ]
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