Shadow to Shadow.

Warning
Warning: Some content in this story may not be suitable for all readers due to implied unpleasantness.
Warning

 

After parting from the caravan, Meliantha made her way north through the trees of the Hullack. The sun shone through the green leaves overhead, and the boles of the trees were wide. The paths through the trees were wide, but filled with the lumps of roots, and the forest itself had its dangers. She avoided some parties larger than she felt comfortable dealing with, slew one party of orcs, a party of goblins and a pair of bugbears before encountering a group of human bandits.

The bandits held a half-dozen prisoners – slaves – to take care of the camp for them. All of them were girls, the oldest sixteen, half-starved, bruised and their eyes hollow and empty to reveal their spirits broken. Meliantha took a few quiet, deep breaths to damp down the rage inside her, and instead watched carefully. Each smack or punch inflicted on the girls made her rage burn hotter, her knuckles pale with the strength of her hold on the hilt of the sword she’d taken from the other group of bandits along the East Road. These bandits seemed to make sport of how to humiliate those girls, and some of them tried harder than others to find new ways.

As it grew dark, the leader of the bandits took the oldest girl by the arm, and started to drag her to the tattered tent that was his. Catcalls followed him, with suggestions of what he could do to her, and finally she could take no more.

Drawing the sword, she took one step, then a second, and then she burst into a run. Her first charge through the camp killed two of the ten bandits, and a third screamed as his left arm parted at the elbow. She drew up, turning, and charged back. One of them had a spear, and she felt it tear through shirt and scrape through chainmail on her shoulder, drawing blood. That just drew her anger up higher, and she snarled at them all, “For your crimes of banditry, outlawry, and slavery, death is all you deserve!”

At that declaration, the blade she bore began to shine with a pale yellow light, and then made a ringing sound, as if it was being slammed against a stone repeatedly. Along the blade, the metal seemed to sink in, revealing runes engraved into the flat of the sword in a script she didn’t understand. Just forward of the guard, a shining blue crystal seemed to rise out of the metal, as well. The visible bandits suddenly turned and fled, screaming, into the woods, leaving only two: the one trying to rise despite his severed arm and the chief of them.

That last one emerged from his tent, holding a battered but functional warhammer, and grinned at the sight. “I’ll take yer blade, and then you’ll join that other one in my bed tonight, and I might not strangle you in the morning!” He took a step forward, swinging the hammer back and forth in front of him, forcing her to take to her defense. She stepped carefully, watching not his hammer, but his eyes. Once she knew she had his complete attention, she struck out at his hands, causing him to howl in anger, as she drew blood on two of his fingers. He was angry now, and unlike her, he was bad at controlling it. She feinted at his hands again, and he drew them back, then used the motion to lash out with the hammer, but its swing was too close to his body, and he missed. The swing took him off-balance and left him open, so she drove her sword into his heart.

She drew it out and let him fall, wiping the blade clean on his cloak. The glow and sound had gone, but the runes and crystal remained. “Well, that was dramatic, but it was also effective,” she told the sword. “Some of those will be running until they find something to kill them.”

Not the intent,” the sword replied, “as I would prefer them cleanly dead.” Then, as if the blade could see her startled look, it added in a slightly sly tone, “Perhaps I should introduce myself.

* * *

A couple of the bandits had tried to return – and died – but with that, the camp was quiet. Meliantha had tried to talk to the girls, but all she could really get out of them was that they’d been taken by the bandits, along with their mothers, who were “gone”, which made Meliantha think she’d been entirely too merciful to the bandits, and hope that whatever god had their souls, their torment would be long and unpleasant.

Meat was roasting over the fire, she’d mixed up some gruel, and as all of it cooked she cleaned the blade and spoke to it. She’d heard of intelligent weapons before, but this was the first one she’d encountered, and it was an unusual experience.

My last partner died, and that sent me into dormancy. I created myself –

“Wait, you created yourself? How do you do that?”

The blade gave a small sigh. “I was an elven magewright, a crafter of enchanted weapons. This was to be my masterpiece, my finest work, enchanted for one of the greatest warriors of the elves, to protect the High Mages from the persecution and forced servitude of the lords of Aryvandaar! I poured my strength into forging the blade, my passion and power into enchanting it… and at the last, it looked as if it would fail, and in my moment of rage at the chance I might fail, I felt my heart give way, as I was not young. And when next I could perceive… it was like this. I had become the sword. But that last moment also left me with a weakness, for if my bearer died without willing me to another, I would sleep until I was drawn in the name of protecting others from being forced to serve. And so do I serve.

Meliantha considered the story. “…the lords of Aryvandaar… that was more than ten thousand years ago.”

Indeed. The Crown Wars, a sad time for the elves. I served as blade to a few of the blade-mages of the Elven Court, until the war ended and Aryvandaar was fallen. I’d lost much of my memory – my name, much of my life before my spirit was bound to the blade – so I simply remained silent and watched. I kept the name I had bestowed upon the blade, since I no longer remember the one I was born with. I have seen centuries go by, and slept for more than I have been awake. I am the blade sworn to freedom and against slavery, the Chainbreaker.

“And I serve the god of Guardians, who may not even have been known to the elves of the time. To protect those who need it, to try to avert danger before it comes to those unprepared.”

The blade’s voice was warm. “I think we would do well together, then. Do you agree?

“I do,” Meliantha replied. “Is there something I must do?”

It’s already done – your declaration bound us. I will serve you as I can – I can bring fear to your enemies, release the power of dragons on your strike, protect your mind and spirit from being chained or controlled, and tell you the health of your companions. If you need me, I will come to your hand at your thought. Touch my pommel to a lock or a knot, and it will open. The crystal embedded in me will burn demons, and on a strong strike keep them from teleporting away. All I ask is you honor your oaths to your god, and together we will strike for freedom and justice.

“And I will honor my oaths, and honor you for your sacrifice and your dedication. So let it be sworn.”

Now,” Chainbreaker said, “what about these young ladies?” The six girls sat, eyes still hollow, in a semicircle on the other side of the fire.

Meliantha regarded them. “There’s a monastery of Ilmater a few days walk from here. It may be best to take them there. If anyone can help them, it’s the those who serve the Crying God.”

Another god I don’t remember. But I’ve lost quite a bit of what I once knew, so perhaps there were other names then. I trust your judgement, friend.

“In the morning, then, we’ll begin heading towards that monastery.” She returned Chainbreaker to his scabbard, and then turned to the chest she’d found in the tent. A few moments work with the key he’d kept in his pouch, and it opened to reveal a number of coins and gems, some metal trade-bars, a pair of small pouches, and a balled-up wad of cloth. The pouches revealed a pair of rings and a brooch, and the wad turned out to be a cloak in surprisingly good condition.

Magical,” Chainbreaker told her. “All four of those. Best keep them for yourself.” She nodded, putting them into the magical backpack she’d gotten, then adding the valuables.

“For the monastery,” she noted. The girls barely reacted to any of this.

* * *

It took twice as long as she’d expected. The girls had no real will of their own, and plodded slowly. When one tripped and fell, she lay there until she was helped up. They ate when she told them to, but with nothing even close to an appetite. The trip to the Ilmatari was slow, and Meliantha had to watch her temper, as she was afraid of showing any anger at all to these girls who had been the property of those bandits.

During the trip, she’d learned that Chainbreaker didn’t need to speak to converse with her; he could speak into her mind directly, and hear her. Near the end of the trip, one of the few things that kept her stable instead of screaming were those private conversations.

The monks of the monastery were glad to take the girls, and just as glad of the donation for their care. They promised Meliantha that the girls would be taken care of, and healed as best they could. As she left, she saw the monks – twenty men who spoke softly, carefully and compassionately to the girls – taking them in, speaking to them gently, and the youngest of them starting to react to it.

With them taken care of, she started again on her trip to Shadowdale. There was a road about three days journey she could take, with a river she could ford, and then if she was careful going around Tilverton, that would speed things considerably for her trip.

Not for the first time, she wondered who and what awaited her in Shadowdale.

Posted by Meliantha Demonblood

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