Chapter 1

…left thrust right spin step back thrust thrust parry jump slash diagonal left press forward spin slash flip blade block left right center pierce blocked counter spin right slash and jump coming left block now oops block block BLOCK barely blocked spin left thrust keep thrusting parry counter slash keep slashing thrusting attacking…

It was a beautiful and deadly dance to behold, the great master and one of his pupils sparring, something that occured did every day. Sword upon sword, the two moved slowly across the dirt floor as Opiri watched. She envied the power of these individuals, who had a power that most people did not, a power she could never obtain. But such was the lot of a slave in the Vertical City.

…thrust forward bring blade around right step lock blades push force down backpedal even stance charge dodge spin blades collide slide under bring around slash blocked reverse cut blocked again thrust dodge quick bring blade back up block it BLOCK IT close almost a hit quick slash missed keep pressure on slash faster…

Opiri waited patiently for the fight to end, as was her duty. With her right hand she carefully held a bowl atop her head, which was an armspan in diameter. It was filled with water, and floating in it were two towels. Normally, most slaves or servants would have used both hands for such a bowl. Opiri, however lacked one critical prerequisite for using both of her hands; her left one was missing. But such was the lot of a slave in the Vertical City.

…slash up thrust block cut feint left step right thrust block counter go offensive cross slash sweat in eyes wipe LOOKOUT block jump back even stance swing from left sword knocked away fight over…and the dance ceased. The two men shook hands ritually, first right-to-right and then left-to-left. They then walked over, and both grabbed towels from the bowl Opiri held. Neither one said a word to Opiri, gracious or otherwise, as they left. But such was the lot of a slave in the Vertical City.

The Vertical City was full of secret passages. Most of its inhabitants knew that certain secret passages existed. Some of these were so well known that they really could not be called secret. However, few people comprehended the sheer number of such passages that threaded their way through the titanic stone walls of the city.

For example, neither Opiri, nor her master, the master of the city's martial training academy, nor even the pupil he had just finished dueling, knew of the secret passage that ran through the academy. But someone did, and that someone, at that moment, was watching through a narrow crack in the wall, waiting for the proper moment…

Opiri obediently followed her master into the empty dining hall. He advanced to the podium that stood on one side of the room, and as his tired pupil took a seat at a nearby table, he prepared to speak.

Suddenly, a black blur came from the left, looking like a shadow that had jumped off the wall. A sword appeared and was impaled in the table, barely a fingerspan away from the young pupil. The figure stood still for a second, covered in black rags that defeated any hope of identifying the assailant. Then he yanked the sword free, and advanced on his quarry. But just as quickly, Opiri's master moved to bar the black-clad figure's way. "The first fight anyone must fight in my academy," he states slowly and heavily, "is with me." The black-clad figure says nothing, but readies his sword and assumes a fighting stance. Opiri's master, without moving at all, addresses his pupil, "Run now, and take my slave with you." The pupil doesn't waste any time getting the hell out of there, and neither does Opiri. After all, a good slave always does exactly what his or her master wants.

Opiri follows the pupil out of the academy, into the bright sunlight. They are on a stone bridge, ten manspans above the ground. The pupil hurries along, and she breaks into a sprint in order to keep up. They descend two levels, passing merchant booths full of wares both mundane and exotic. She has no clue where they are going, or even where they are, but she doesn't really care. Either she'll end up having to eventually return to the academy and her master, or she will get a new master. It makes no difference to Opiri which of the two occurs.

Suddenly the young man turns left, into a building. There is carved writing on the side of the building, but since Opiri never learned to read, it's meaningless. She follows him inside, and they walk down a series of dimly-lit corridors, passing several old wooden and metal doors on the way. They arrive at a door made of shining metal, and he goes in. She follows him.

Inside is an older man sitting behind a seemingly equally old desk. His bushy brown facial hair is tinged with gray, and his gut is rounded. Despite this, he looks like a hale man. His gray uniform rustles as he looks up, "My son! Did your lesson at the martial academy end early?" "N-no, Father," stammers the young man, who seems shaken, "I was…I was attacked by a man…in black rags. The swordsmaster…he told me to leave while he…fought him…to protect me…" "An assassination attempt? Don't worry, my son. I'll get to the bottom of this…," he said, then suddenly whirled to face Opiri, "Who are you, and what the hell are doing in my office?"

"Forgive me, mi'lord," she said tonelessly, as she has been raised to, "I was ordered to accompany your son by my master, the master of the martial academy." "Very well then," he growled, and then sat back, looking thoughtful. Suddenly, a another man, also wearing a gray uniform, walked in, looking very concerned. "Captain, sir! I bring distressing news!" "What is it now, Guardsman?" grumbled the captain from behind the desk. "I regret to inform you, Captain, sir," stated the uniformed guard, "that Master Uroc of the city's martial academy has been slain!"

The captain and his son both froze, dumbfounded that this great swordsman could have been vanquished. Opiri also was slightly surprised, but for a different reason. She had not known that this young man, pupil of her late master, was the son of Captain Blakarro, the legendary captain of the city guard. He was brutal in his judgments of anyone who was not one of the nobility. He was particularly infamous for his supposedly horrid treatment of his slaves, especially compared to most people.

And given what just occurred, it now looked like the captain was her new master.

Author's Note: Ugh, just ugh.

Do not ask me why I thought it would be just fine to switch between present and past tense mid story. I don't even remember what I was thinking at the time, as it's been many years since I wrote this. Clearly I needed my head examined.

And that's not even getting started on the length. I apparently concluded this was sufficient to be a full chapter. Maybe in a 30+ chapter novel, but I doubt the actual full story would have lasted that long.

On the other hand, I am curious to see what people think of how I handled the sword fight at the beginning. It definitely lends itself to a fast flowing fight, something that probably isn't normally well handled in most fantasy fiction. Of course, that's just my opinion, and it could be as bad as the rest of this.

Enjoy! (Or not.)