Chapter 4

"No, keep your sword up! Guard your torso! You can live without a leg, but you can't live without a heart!"

I lunged at Roan, my practice sword easily knocking his out of the way and stabbing him in the chest. He grunted at the blunt blow, taking a few stumbling steps back. I used his loss of balance to take him down, hooking my foot behind his ankle and easily pulling his leg out from under him, watching critically as he fell to the ground.

We were using some large sticks I had found in the thick woods we were currently practicing in, and had carved them a bit to look like swords. We'd been at this for an hour, and he was a pretty fast learner, though he could be a bit clumsy at times. I was harshly pounding on him, not even trying to be soft as I taught him the basics of sword fighting. After all, if he can't take the punishment of practice, there's no way he'd survive an actual fight.

"Stand up," I said dispassionately. "You only lay on the ground when you're dead."

Scrabbling to his feet, Roan quickly got into the basic fighting stance I had taught him earlier. Suddenly lunging at him, I swung my sword at his head, satisfied when he ducked beneath it and stabbed his sword at me. Easily batting his sword away, I slapped his face with my left hand, sending him reeling back.

"That's not fair!" he whined, rubbing his stinging face. "M-Master," he added quickly.

"You're enemy doesn't play fair," I said harshly.

Narrowing his eyes, the boy awkwardly lunged at me, swinging his sword wildly. Sighing, I grabbed the sword in my hand, ripping it from his loose grip. Giving me a wide-eyed look, Roan took a hesitant step back, his hands twitching at his sides.

{He's going at this half-assed. You've taught him all the basic defensive moves, but he has no real sense of danger, so he's fighting badly. Make him fear for his life!}

Tossing the boy's sword to him, I dropped my wooden play sword to the ground and walked over to the huge tree where I had left my cloak and other possessions. Grabbing my real, steel sword, I unsheathed it, then turned towards the boy, holding it aloft. His eyes were wide and focused on the sword, his skin pale.

"Wha-what are you doing?" he asked, his voice shaking.

Silently, I walked menacingly towards him, twisting my sword. He took a step back, but I simply walked faster, then quickly swung my sword at him when I was a few feet away. He cried out, ducking and dropping his sword, backing up.

"Pick up your sword!" I screamed at him.

Shaking his head, the boy backed up even farther, his eyes filled with fear. Bending down, I grabbed the sword and threw it at him, hitting him in the chest. His hands automatically grabbed the sword, holding it to his chest.

"Fight! Protect yourself!" I yelled, swinging at him again.

Nearly dropping the sword, the boy quickly got into the correct stance, holding the sword forward with shaky hands.

"Use your surroundings! Fight dirty! This is your life on the line! Do anything to protect it!"

I kept up the yelling as I advanced on him, swinging my sword. He struggled to block my attacks, his wooden sword slowly being whittled down by my real one. Frustrated, I swung hard, cleanly slicing the wooden sword in half, then I lunged forward, nicking his cheek with the blade.

He fell to the ground and rolled away, quickly jumping to his feet, the wooden sword I had been using suddenly in his other hand. I grinned inside as he straightened, a determined look on his face. Pulling his hand back, he threw his broken sword at me, nailing me in the chest, then ran forward, my practice sword held straight up above his head as if he was going to chop down with an axe.

{Stupid, stupid boy.}

Twisting, I kicked out my leg and easily sunk it into his gut, dropping him to the ground. He gasped, clutching his stomach and rolling around, moaning in pain. I stepped on his chest and pressed down, stopping his movements. He writhed beneath my foot, scrabbling at my ankle as I pressed harder.

"You're dead," I said, putting the sharp tip of my sword against his neck, watching his eyes widen. Shaking my head, I freed him from beneath my foot and stepped back. "Get up. Quickly."

Wincing, Roan got to his feet, rubbing his chest.

"Okay," I said, nodding my head. "Throwing the broken sword at me. Yes. But, when you throw something, aim for the head. If you hit the enemy's eyes, it'll take them out for a few seconds; long enough for you to go in for the kill. Also, never raise the sword like you just did. It's not an axe. And it leaves your midsection completely unprotected. One stab to the gut and you'd be out."

Swallowing, Roan nodded hesitantly. "U-um," he said, licking his lips, "Master? C-can I use a real sword?"

"No. You still haven't even figured out how to use a practice sword. With you're experience, you're more likely to end up cutting off your own hand."

Roan frowned, but accepted my words.

"Now," I said, getting into a offensive stance. "Sword at the ready!"

We practiced until it was too dark to see. And, even then, I made him practice. I used my night vision to see, while Roan flailed blindly about in the absolute darkness. He was fairly good at listening for my footsteps, but I still managed to catch him off guard several times and whack him with the flat of my blade.

"Alright," I said when I sensed his body breaking down with exhaustion. "We'll stop for the night and continue tomorrow. If you want to quit, now's the time to say so."

Roan immediately shook his head. "No, Sir," he said, his arms hanging limply by his side. "I-I want to learn."

"Good," I said, going over to the big tree and gathering my stuff, sheathing my sword. "Because if you quit, I'd have to kill you."

I heard the boy swallow nervously, then gasp as I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and dragged him behind me as I found a good place to sleep. Shoving him to the ground, I rolled out a blanket and laid down on it, closing my eyes. I heard the boy settle down, then, soon after, his breathing turned slow and even, signaling sleep.

{Tanek...are you certain this is a good idea?}

No. Nothing is ever certain.


"Okay," I said to the boy, who was paying rapt attention to my every word. "Today, I'm gonna teach you a certain style of fighting."

"What kind of style?" he asked eagerly, his eyes shining with interest

"My fighting style."

I had been teaching the boy basic skills for over a month, and I'd decided it was time to teach him serious fighting. He was a quick study, and was able to master the defensive moves I'd taught him.

Now, to move on to something harder.

"You get to use a real sword this time," I said, watching as his eyes lit up with excitement. "But, first, we actually have to get you a real sword."

Nodding his head eagerly, the boy followed my orders and quickly packed up all of our stuff. We walked the day's journey to the nearest town, arriving at dusk, then stayed the night at an inn, and was ready by the time morning came around the next day.

Heading to the market, I kept an eye out for any blacksmiths, then finally spotted one as midday arrived. Just as we were about to head up the stairs and enter the building, though, the boy suddenly tugged on my cloak, stopping me.

"How are we going to pay for this?" he whispered.

"Don't worry about it," I said, waving him off and jogging up the stairs, entering the second-story shop. "And, remember," I added, glancing back at him. "Pick the sword that calls to you."

Swords lined the walls, were stuck in barrels, or just left leaning against corners. I spotted an old, wrinkled, bearded gruff man sitting on a stool across the room, polishing a small dagger with a dirt rag that had seen better days. He looked up as the door shut behind us, sizing us up.

"What'da want?" he asked. Well, more like grunted, really. His voice sounded like rocks grinding against each other. Very unpleasant, if I must say.

"We're looking for a sword," I said, jerking my thumb at the boy. "For him."

Sighing, the man turned back to what he was doing. "Don't got no play swords."

"If I was looking for a play sword," I said coldly, "I wouldn't be here."

The man glanced up, his eyes narrowing at me. He suddenly stood and lumbered over towards us, easily towering over us. I held my ground as he got right up in my face, giving him a determined look.

"I need," I said slowly, my tone dangerous, "a sword."

Breathing heavily, the guy gave me a long, hard look, then suddenly took a step back, nodding. "Fine," he said. "How much, what kind?"

"Price isn't a matter," I said, waving my hand, "And whatever kind he chooses."

Glancing at me, Roan began to wander around the room, his eyes sliding hungrily over all the swords. Occassionally, he'd stop and run a finger over a sword or two, but he quickly moved on.

And then he stopped at one of the corners.

Leaning down, he picked up one of the swords lying on the ground and blew on it, sending up a cloud of dust. Holding it aloft, he gave it a few experimental swings, a strong shiver running up his back, easily spotted by me.

Oh, looks like he found his sword.

"This one," the boy whispered, turning and grinning at me. "It's this one."

"Alright," I said, turning to the blacksmith. "How much?"

"Eight silver," he said easily.

I narrowed my eyes. "That's robbery."

"No, it's business," he said with a predatory grin.

Quick as I snake, I pulled my sword and had it pointed at his throat before he could blink. "No," I said, grinning. "This is business. I'm a thief. Normally, I'd take what I wanted, but, you see, I'm trying to teach the kid manners. Now, I really want to kill you right now, but I don't want to dirty my sword with a smith's blood. I heard their veins run with fire, after all. Then again," I said thoughtfully, tilting my head. "It would be interesting to find out what's inside of you."

The blacksmith blinked, his eyes locked with mine. "You're insane," he whispered, his voiced a mixture of awe and fear. "You're-you're completely insane."

I giggled, poking at his beard. "Just a little. But life's funner that way."

Swallowing, the guy nodded, saying, "Okay. I'll give you the sword for three bits."

"Really?" I said, lowering the sword and grinning happily. "How kind of you! Isn't he a kind fellow, boy?"

Roan gave a hesitant, "Uh-huh," making my roll my eyes.

"Anyway," I said, sheathing my sword. "Now I need some swords."

I wandered around the room, selecting seven more swords that I liked, then walked up to the smith. Making the boy hold the swords, I puled out my coin purse, looking at the smith.

"Alright. How much will all this come to?"

The smith glanced at the swords, then named a price, which was fairly high, but much lower than it should have been. Pulling out a small blood red stone, I held it up in the air, watching with glee as the smith's eyes zeroed in on it, turning excited.

"Will this cover it?" I asked.

He nodded eagerly, reaching for the stone. Grabbing it, he headed towards a small table with parchment scattered atop it, searching through them, ignoring us.

"Where'd you get that stone?" the boy whispered urgently.

"Stole it from one of the bandits a while back," I said, giggling. Stole from a bandit. Haha, I'm amazing.

"Then why didn't you use it before now?"

I frowned, my happy mood ruined. "I was saving it for a special occasion. What? Would you prefer I didn't use it?"

"No, no!" Roan said, waving his hands frantically. "Go ahead! Use it! Sir!"

I rolled my eyes, scoffing. "Selfish brat," I muttered, shoving him out of the way.

After we paid, I had the boy haul the swords as I led the way across town, looking for a specific building. By the time I found it, the boy way panting and sweating from exhaustion, but he had yet to complain. Good boy.

"Stay close," I said as I opened the heavy door, my eyes quickly surveying the huge room beyond.

I counted twenty-seven people scattered through out the room, sitting on benches or simply standing around. All of them had weapons. Some hidden, some in plain view. A few turned my way as Roan and I entered, but they soon turned away and continued whatever they were doing.

Spotting the Guild assistant, I walked up to her as she stood behind the bar, sorting through a stack of papers. "Yes?" she said without bothering to look up.

I pasted on my award winning grin, setting my forearm against the counter and leaning on it. "Rosaline. You're looking lovely as ever."

She froze, and I heard the quiet chatter of the other people in the room quickly come to a halt. I was toeing the line, and I knew it, but I was having too much fun to stop now.

"Have you changed your hair?" I asked, tilting my head. "Or is that a new color of rouge?"

Now, normally, anyone who dared to comment on Rosaline's looks would be dead. Knife through their throat, writhing on the floor dead.

But, I'm me, and people just don't do that to me.

So, instead she just glared at me, snarling. "What do you want, RT?"

RT. Red Talon. I need to remember to stop giving out my name so much. One of these days its gonna come back and bite me in the ass.

"I have," I said, gesturing to the boy with a flourish, "Seven high quality swords for you, baby."

Rose blinked, then hopped over the counter and landed in front of the boy, her eyes hungrily scouring the swords. She picked on up and examined it, giving it a few experimental swings. Nodding her head, satisfied, she put it back and did the same for the other swords.

"How much?" she said as she examined them.

"Three things," I said, grinning.

She finally looked at me, her eyes narrowing.

"First," I said, stepping closer to her. "A room for the night. Second, food. Third, information. Simple, yes?"

"Nothing's simple with you," she said, scoffing.

I rolled my eyes and stepped back. "Boy," I said, nodding at Roan. "Put the swords on the counter."

"Who's that?" Rose asked, watching Roan as he followed my orders.

"None of your business," I said sweetly, but my eyes said, 'Don't fucking ask!'

She nodded understandingly, then led us upstairs and to a good-sized room with two beds in it. Roan immediately flopped onto one of them, rolling around a bit, and I didn't bother to chastise him, figuring I'd be nice and let him relax. Hell, this was probably the first time he'd been in a bed in a while. I know I'd go crazy if I didn't get to sleep in a bed at least once in a while.

"I'll have someone bring dinner up to you when it's time," Rose said, watching Roan, then turning to me. "What's the info you needed?"

"I need info about some stones," I said quietly so Roan wouldn't hear.

"What kind?"

"Containment stones."

Rose narrowed her eyes, glancing at Roan and speaking softly. "Those are just myths."

"You and I know some things aren't really myths," I said, smiling.

Rose gave me a long look, then sighed, shaking her head. "What do you need to know about them."

"I'm looking for them. Who would have them, and where can I find them. You can put the word out that one of your clients is searching for them. Don't give out my name, got it?" I said sternly.

"Yeah, yeah," she said, waving her hand.

She started to leave, but I suddenly called her back.

"Oh, Rosie," I said.

She stopped, turning back to me. "Yeah?"

"If you screw up," I said, tilting my head and grinning. "I'll kill you."

I saw her shiver, sending a thrill through me, but she quickly hid her fear and nodded, leaving the room.

Sighing, I turned back to the boy, who was lying face down on the bed, completely vulnerable. Shaking my head in disgust, I tugged off my cloak and covered the boy with it, then picked up his sword from where he'd set it on a little table near his bed.

Sitting on the floor, I began to examine it, running my fingers over the blade, satisfied when it cleanly sliced the pads of my fingers. Sucking up the blood, I healed the small cut, then continued looking at the sword. There were a few chips on the blade, but I easily smoothed those over with a bit of magic. A swirling yellow stone was embedded in the hilt, flashing when I poked at it with a tendril of magic.

{The sword's enchanted}

Ah, he speaks. Haven't heard you in a while.

{I was busy}

Doing what?

{Going through my memories}

Hmm. Anything interesting I should know about?

{No}

Alright then. Tell me about the sword.

{It's enchanted. It's got healing powers, plus it protects against magic}

Oh, the boy picked a good one.

{Yeah. Plus, here's another tidbit. The sword protects it's owner. It's fiercely loyal, and won't ever harm it's wielder. If it's owner is every stabbed or cut with it, the sword will just glance off their skin}

So the boy doesn't ever have to worry about his sword being used on him. Pretty good.

I heard Nanook laugh. {Your sword is jealous. It thinks your replacing it}

I sighed, unsheathing my own sword. "I'm not replacing you," I said to it. "The new sword belongs to the boy, not me."

I felt a sharp stab in my hand, making me drop the sword. Cursing, I picked it back up, resisting the urge to throw it. "Knock it off!"

The sword suddenly changed color, turning from it's camouflage silver to a swirling black. Knowing I was going to be in a lot of pain if I didn't tread carefully, I rested the flat of the blade on the back of my fist, holding it loosely.

"You're the only sword that can withstand my power," I said quietly to it. "I would not replace you. You're too valuable."

Slowly, the black stop swirling and gradually lightened, changing colors until it was a light pink, a warm, happy feeling emanating from it. I let out a relieved breath as it returned to a silver color, blending in with regular swords.

Phew. Crisis averted.

I sheathed my sword carefully, still a little wary. When it didn't bite me, I slumped against the side of the boy's bed, staring blankly at the other wall.

The boy and I will stay here for a few days, then we'll head back out. Oh! Wait! I know of an abandoned courtyard around this area where I can teach the boy my fighting style. The courtyard's in ruins, so it'll be the perfect place to teach him to take advantage of the surroundings.

Standing, I stretched, then hopped onto my bed, laying down. Not really much else to do today other than take a nap.

Sighing, I closed my eyes, humming as sleep quickly took me.


"Okay, stand like this," I said, showing Roan the correct stance. "No, feet farther apart. There, like that. Good. Now, swing the sword like this..."

We had set ourselves up in the ruins of the old courtyard, and I was currently teaching the boy my fighting style. It was a complicated style, and, despite the boy's quick learning, it was still taking him a while to do it correctly.

"No," I said, shaking my head as I watched the boy swing the sword. I walked up to him and grabbed his wrists, slowly rotating them until they were in the correct position. I moved his arms slowly in the complicated pattern a couple times, then let go, watching critically as he repeated the motion. Nodding, I stepped back and sat down on a nearby boulder.

"Alright. Now, do that movement over and over again until I tell you to stop."

The boy went at it for over an hour with no complains. But, as the second hour passed, I could tell he was becoming exhausted. Still, I had him continue.

I was nibbling on an apple I had found nearby when the boy suddenly fell to his knees, catching my attention. I watched with satisfaction as the boy didn't let go of his sword, one of the first lessons I had drilled into him when we first began. Panting, he gagged, his arms dropping to his sides.

"Why'd you stop?" I asked in a disinterested tone.

"I...I can't...breathe..." he gasped, clutching his chest. "A-and...my arms...heavy..."

I studied him. Sweat was pouring off him in bucketfuls, and his tunic was completely drenched. His hair had turned a darker color from all the sweat in it, and his skin was flushed.

"Five minute break," I said, "Then continue."

"Yes...Master..."

I made him practice the one move for the rest of the day until it turned dark. When I finally said, "M'kay, we're done for the day," the boy sheathed his sword, then promptly fell to the ground, panting. He suddenly vomited, making my grimace.

Sighing, I stood and dusted off my breeches, then headed over to him, wrinkling my nose at the smell. Grabbing him by the back of his tunic, I dragged him after me as I headed to a nearby creek. Unbuckling his sword belt, I tossed it and his sword onto the bank in a little patch of grass. Tossing the boy into the icy water, I grinned when he gasped and flailed around until he reached the bank, laying down half in and half out of the water.

Rolling my eyes, I quickly stripped, leaving all my clothes and weapons on dry land, and slowly walked into the water, hissing at the cold. Grabbing the boy, I carried him with me as I made my way to the middle of the creek, the water only waist deep. Setting the boy in the water, I held his head above as I let his body float limply in the creek.

He sighed, his body relaxing as the water did it's work healing his tired muscles. His breathing gradually slowed, along with his heart as I continued to hold him in the water, my lower body beginning to go numb from the cold.

Leaning down, I whispered in his ear, "Tomorrow, I'm gonna teach you a new move, and you're gonna practice it just as much as you did today."

I giggled when he whimpered, "Y-yes, Master."

After a few more minutes, I dragged the boy out of the creek and lifted him to his feet, ordering him to walk. Leading him to a large boulder, I had him sit on it as I began undressing him.

"Wha-what are you doing?" he asked, his teeth chattering together as he began to shiver from the cold.

"These wet clothes will make you sick if you continue to wear them," I said, wringing out his tunic and draping it over a boulder.

I did the same with his breeches and underclothes, and set his boots next to them. Going over to my clothes, I got dressed, except for my cloak, then headed back over to the boy. Draping the cloak around him, I made sure he was well covered, then plopped down on the boulder next to him, leaning back and staring up at the starry sky.

"Why-why are you teaching me this?"

I turned to the boy at his quiet question.

"Why didn't you just kill me?" he asked, looking at me.

I looked at him, staring hard until he began to squirm. Sighing, I glanced away, staring back up at the sky.

"I don't know, kid. I don't know."


"So," Rosaline said, watching the boy as he chatted with one of the other mercenaries in the Guild. "What's with the kid?"

"Him?" I asked, nibbling on a carrot. "He's my slave."

"He doesn't have a collar," she observed.

"Eh, I didn't want a hassle with the slavers or bounty hunters," I said, shrugging my shoulders.

"Ah," she said, nodding her head. "He's not registered, is he."

"Nope," I said, tossing the stem of the carrot neatly into the trash bin nearby. "It's easier to cart him around without the collar. No questions."

I hopped off the bar counter where I had been laying, landing on my feet on the floor.

"So," I said, placing my forearms against the bar and leaning on them. "What information have you got for me?"

Pulling a couple parchments from beneath the bar, she set them on the flat surface, spreading them out. "Let's see," she said, scanning them. "I've got a guy in Talehan who says he's got a containment stone, but he'll only sell it for a price. Another guy in Bisby says he's got a bunch of stones in a chest and he might have one...Uh, this guy..." she paused, then crumpled up the parchment, tossing it in the bin. "I don't know how that got there. Uhm, this one's from a guy who says he works for a Lady who has a stone in her jewelry box. And, last but not least, I have an anonymous tip from a fellow in the capital who says there's one in the King's treasure."

"Hmm," I said, grabbing the parchments and looking over them. "Good, good."

Folding them up, I stuck them in my pocket, then yelled for the boy. He jogged over and stood at my side as I leaned back over the counter, reaching for Rosaline. Grabbing the back of her neck, I pulled her towards me, shivering with glee when I felt her tense.

"Your brother's in Aristote," I whispered, grinning when she gasped and jerked back.

"What?" she breathed, her eyes wide.

"Saw him in that town on one of my jobs. He was a guard for a Lord or something," I said, waving my hand dismissively.

"When?!" she asked, grabbing the front of my tunic and pulling me towards her. "When did you see him?!"

"A few months ago," I said, frowning at her. "Let me go if you want to keep that arm."

She quickly let me go, but still looked at me with wide eyes. "How did he look? Was he okay? Did he--"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I said, shaking my head. "He's your kin, not mine. I didn't talk to him. I just thought I'd let you know since you did such and oustanding job for me."

Before she could say anything else, I waved goodbye, grabbed the kid and dragged him outside. Pausing in the blinding sun, I squinted as I looked around.

"Alright," I said to the boy. "I'm hungry. We'll eat lunch, then head out."

"M-Master, where are we going?" the boy asked meekly as I started walking, heading for a tavern I knew of that made good chicken pies.

"We're going to Talehan."

I was gonna get the containment stone, even if I had to kill the man who said he had it.

{The stone's mine. He will not keep it}