Kirst Jeswyn stepped cautiously onto the moonlit cobblestones. Silver light glinted off the broadsword held with its point lowered at his side as he scanned the clearing for signs of his opponent. Ancient pillars of carved stone lined the circular courtyard, remnants of a forgotten religion that now served as guardians of this bloody field of battle. Priests from both clans had sanctified the pillars and the forest surrounding them, ensuring that only the Chosen could approach the area. As Kirst set foot on the worn cobblestones the pillars glowed blue, signifying that the other Chosen was near.
"Show yourself," Kirst commanded. He scanned the forest a second time, vainly trying to peer through the darkness.
A shadow moved deep in the woods, shifting with an almost feminine grace. The moonlight reflected off a long stretch of white before the rest of the figure was visible. Slowly the man approached, pausing slightly between two of the glowing pillars, standing at the border between light and shadow. Kirst could feel his face crinkle into a frown as he took in the unarmed man. Or at least he assumed it was a man, but the way he moved was too feminine, almost like a.... He stopped that thought before it could develop. There was no way a faradhim would be Chosen, though a keyshal was a possibility. When the figure moved forward into the light Kirst knew this was definitely a man. His chest was flat as a board, but his clothes were something of an absurdity. The man... no, not a man Kirst decided as he got a closer look at the boy's face. The boy wore only a long shirt that stretched down to his knees, his legs bare below that.
What absurdity was this? What was the Miyagi chief thinking sending a barely clothed, unarmed boy against the Sakano Chosen? No, this had to be a trick. The Miyagi must fear Kirst's prowess. He'd killed six of their warriors already so they thought to lure him off guard by sending a seeming innocent against him. The boy probably had weapons hidden at ready around the clearing.
Kirst raised his sword in a defensive stance in front of him as the boy stepped fully into the courtyard. His gaze hardened. He would give this boy no sympathy. He'd die just like all the others. That was the destiny of the Chosen.
"Raise your weapon."
The boy looked calmly at Kirst for several minute, not moving or saying a word in response and Kirst almost thought perhaps the boy hadn't heard him. Then suddenly the boy dropped to his knees on the courtyard, his head bowed and his hands stretched out on the stones before him, palms up. The boy was signaling his defeat.
Something about the entire situation set Kirst's instincts on fire. He backed up one step involuntarily before he could school himself. Kirst Jeswyn did not fear an unarmed boy, he told himself.
He stalked forward angrily. The boy's blonde hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, streaming over one shoulder in a glittering cascade, leaving one side of his neck bare. Kirst pressed the blade of his sword against the exposed flesh there, trying not to think too much about how pale and thin the boy looked this close. "Draw your weapon," he ordered coldly.
Eyes blue as the far off ocean turned up to look at Kirst. The boy shook his head slowly, not even flinching as the movement caused Kirst's sword to cut slightly into the boy's flesh. A thin line of red appeared against the boy's skin as Kirst pulled the sword back.
"Draw your weapon!" Kirst shouted angrily. One swipe would take off the boy's head and he fully intended to swing if the boy didn't move in the next ten seconds.
The boy only closed his eyes, not moving. If he was afraid he didn't show it.
"Bilge!" Kirst swore angrily as he stomped away, his sword lowering. He turned to glare at the kneeling boy. The steady gaze the boy leveled at him only served to enrage him further. "I refuse to kill an unarmed boy." He pointed his sword at the boy. "You. You have a weapon, correct?"
The boy stared at him but did not respond.
Kirst cursed again, a steady stream of obscenities pouring from his mouth. Breathe, he told himself. Glaring at the boy, he forced himself to be calm. "Your clan sent you here with a weapon at least, right?"
Some guarded emotion flickered briefly in the boy's eyes and he nodded slowly.
"Then where is it?"
The boy pointed back towards the forest.
"Of all the..." Kirst snapped his mouth shut mid sentence and glared. "I supposed you left your pants and shoes there too?" He asked sarcastically. Why had the Goddess set him against such a stupid child?
The boy nodded. Kirst felt his eyes bulge. He hadn't expected the boy to answer at all, let alone answer in the affirmative.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Kirst railed.
The boy simply stared at him.
With a sigh, Kirst lowered his sword. "Go get them," he ordered tiredly. Never in his life had he been faced with a warrior as stupid as this boy. Who in their right mind went walking around without pants? It was absurd. This entire match was absurd.
The boy shook his head firmly.
"Do you want me to kill you?" Kirst asked, exasperated.
At this point he'd honestly expected the boy to nod. It would have fit with the absurdity of the evening. Instead the boy slowly shook his head.
"Then fight me."
The boy shook his head again.
This silence from the boy was really starting to get on Kirst's nerves. "Can you just answer me out loud for once?" He complained.
A shake of the boy's pretty head was his only answer.
Kirst rolled his eyes in exasperation. He felt like he was playing a child's guessing game. "What? Are you a mute, or do you just not want to talk to me?"
The boy shook his head and Kirst almost considered turning on his heals and walking away from this battle. Destiny could go jump in a viper pit for all he cared at the moment. But then the boy held up his hand and Kirst paused mid-turn, watching curiously as the boy pantomimed silently. One small hand fisted in the blonde hair, pulling sharply until the boy's head was tilted back. With his other hand the boy pulled his chin down and held it there. He let go of his hair but kept his head in place as he made a cup with his hand and mimicked tilting the cup into his mouth. Then he coughed and sagged forward, clutching his throat with both hands. Finally, the boy straightened and looked at Kirst steadily.
This was getting far too strange for Kirst to handle. "You were drugged?"
The boy nodded.
"Why in all of the golden fields would they drug a Chosen?"
Slowly, the boy rose to his feet and walked to a clearing to the side of the courtyard. For a moment, Kirst almost suspected the boy would spring a trap or grab a weapon, but fate didn't seem to be inclined to do anything he expected today. Grabbing a stick, the boy scratched something in the dirt and then looked at Kirst expectantly.
With a sigh, Kirst stalked over to stand beside the other Chosen. His shadow fell over the ground, forcing him to move behind the Chosen to get a look at the ground. He let his sword rest against the side of the boy's neck as a precaution as he leaned over to read whatever it was that the boy had written.
A single word was scratched in the dirt: faradhim, the term for men who gave up the way of the warrior to live their life as a woman would. They were the favored of the Goddess, sworn to wear only white and never touch a weapon. To harm a faradhim was equivalent to openly inviting the Goddess's wrath. There was no way in all of the golden fields that a faradhim would be Chosen. It was impossible, and yet as he stared down at the fragile seeming boy below him he had the sinking feeling that it had actually happened.
Despite everything his instincts told him, he couldn't help the nagging suspicion that this was all some sort of elaborate trap. He needed answers, but he also wasn't one to invite death. Staring at the back of the boy's head, Kirst weighed his options. He couldn't rightly kill the boy, even if for some reason the Goddess had Chosen him. That in itself was a paradox he didn't want to consider at the moment. A priest could tell him for certain if the boy was a faradhim, but it would take him over five hours of riding to fetch the nearest priest, and that was if he pressed hard. There was no guarantee the boy wouldn't run away in that time.
"Forgive me for this, Pandala," he muttered quietly. The boy started to turn at Kirst's words, but a swift blow from the pommel of Kirst's sword sent the boy slumping to the ground in unconsciousness. Sheathing his sword, Kirst gathered the boy in his arms and headed to the edge of the forest where he'd tied his horse.