Asumu hastily dodged another swing from the massive warhammer and successfully backed himself into a corner. The huge and altogether pretty crazy warmage before him couldn't have looked happier. Asumu was more jumpy. Literally. With a shattered collarbone, broken shoulder and useless right arm, he really didn't want another close encounter with that hammer.
The pain didn't bother him. He was only partly human, and as a half-redeye, his pain tolerance was much higher. The damage was more of an annoyance than a hindrance. He got more severe injuries in a friendly spar with his dad. This truly was nothing and normally Asumu would just ignore it and go for the kill. He would step inside the range of the hammer and deliver a close and deadly blow.
Unfortunately, there were numerous problems with that plan. His own sword was the first thing to break upon meeting with that damned warhammer, and now he was unarmed. Still, that wouldn't be much of an obstacle if the bloodcrazed mage wouldn't be protecting his body with magical seals. Again, not a big deal. On any other day Asumu would have had no trouble breaking some mediocre magical seals. However, this day was not any other day. He was already exhausted. Like really-freaking exhausted.
The whole fiasco started as an excellent idea for a vacation. Asumu was all for vacations. The one thing he loved more than traveling around interesting places was to get into trouble at interesting places. Go to a populated space-port, find the tavern with the worst reputation and stir up some conflict. He was outstandingly masterful at that. He could laugh in the face of any danger.
There were times however, when danger laughed back.
The stone city of Harabal was a favored pilgrimage destination for thousands of years. The city was mostly carved out of the side of a gigantic rock barely deserving the name of mountain. It was the only landmark in the middle of a desert which stretched through half of the planet. Red was the only thing the eye could see: red sand, red rocks, even the atmosphere had a red hue to it. The sole exception were the dancing green lights on the sky thanks to the ever present solar winds of the planet's sun.
Nobody in Harabal tried to paint their stone-carved houses; that would have broken the unified frontage of the city. The citizens were, let's say, minimalists. And few in numbers. The giant rock was crisscrossed with tunnels and caves and held a waterhole in the middle, which made it a true paradise on this bare planet, but it could only support a pitiable amount of corp. The inhabitants mostly lived from the trading and the offerings of the pilgrims.
In truth, Harabal was more like an extended monastery rather than a real city. It was said that inside the tunnel-system laid a secret cave where an ancient and all-powerful magical relic rested. Nobody knew how it got there, but it certainly hadn't been present when the first colonists started to build the city. Legends were always sketchy. Anyway, the main point was that the locals believed the relic to be a powerful magical weapon so they built the monastery around it and appointed a Sacred Order to guard it. As it quickly turned out, nobody could pick up the magical object. Literally. It wasn't stuck inside of a rock but had been simply lying on a stone altar, undisturbed. Naturally the legend said that only the true master of the weapon could lift it up. Who was this true master? That was up to the picky magical item to choose.
As years went by and nobody could claim the treasure, more and more stories were born. The relic was really powerful… Whoever could wield it, could rule the entire universe… It was the prophesied token of the most powerful mage ever lived. This made Harabal even more popular and sure enough every megalomaniac idiot wanted to try to own the magical weapon. However, the monks did not want to allow every self-appointed world-ruler near their sacred treasure. Mages and warriors with big hopes could only petition for a visit once per year and must pass through a strict sorting. A real bummer.
Then came a lunatic warmage with an army, who couldn't take no for an answer. He started to besiege the city, demanding the weapon, and the monastery went full defensive mode. It continued like this for years while every trade and pilgrimage stopped and the citizens slowly but surely starved. The monks became desperate: they would not survive another year like this but could not give up either. They needed help, but from who? What if their savior would want to seize the sacred relic, too?
That was the moment when Asumu arrived to Harabal, smelled adventure and jumped head first into it. Fighting against a whole army was fun. Fighting off an invading army and saving innocent lives in the process was even more fun.
The monks accepted his help; they didn't have any other choice. Follow a young and ambitious mage or face certain death. Asumu persuaded them to go for the offensive. Well, not everything went as planned.
The battle lasted several days, and Asumu was in the middle of it every minute of every day. He wouldn't have missed a thing. Though, frankly, he wanted to rest a little here and there, but a crazed warmage who was hell-bent on conquering the whole universe with the powerful relic in his hand, sadly had the strategic mind to organize a very effective assault. The residents of Harabal the city itself weren't prepared for a battle of this scale. Asumu himself was the only decent mage present and he could fight nonstop for days. So he did. With varying degrees of success.
Finally facing some real challenge, the warmage had a new rush of joy and doubled his army's effort. After ten days they broke through the monastery's walls. That was one insane explosion. Asumu flew backwards like an ungraceful duck; only without wings his impromptu soaring came to an early end. He still had a minor concussion as a memento from that helpful stone wall. Not that another bruise mattered at that point.
The warmage went inside the tunnels to find the sacred weapon himself and Asumu had no choice but to follow him. He had the brilliant idea to challenge the mad man to a duel – that way no other soldier could interfere. A one-on-one duel between two mages had strict rules. Watchful soldiers and nervous monks on the sidelines, Asumu had the confidence to make the first move in their fight.
And now he was backing up deeper and deeper inside the caves until his back hit hard rock. That last jump he took to avoid the bloody warhammer wasn't his best choice. The carved alcove where he currently stood was not big enough for another evasion. More precisely, his opponent was big enough to fill the whole space, not allowing Asumu any way to run.
Asumu's whole focus was on that damned warhammer. The alcove's low ceiling was temporally protecting him from a wide swing but that wasn't much of a relief. With the warmage's brute strength it was possible to smash him while demolishing half of the alcove in the process. It would be a really undignified end for a Sanguis, to be beaten to a bloody pulp with a warhammer.
He was too young to die. He hadn't even met his soulmate yet! Life was unfair.
Normally Asumu was a pretty unruffled guy. He knew his own strength, he knew the competency of his enemies and he knew the odds of a fight. He trusted his own capabilities and skills and he never started a duel when his opponent was way over his head. Asumu was neither stupid nor egotistic but frankly, he had never met an opponent who was stronger than him. Knowing his kind, his bloodline and his training, that just wasn't possible.
And if, in a strange twist of fate, he would face a scenario where he could truly leave his teeth behind, his brother, Foe, would have warned him before. Or sent somebody after him to help.
Well, no rescuers here. No divine intervention. That left his own wits to help him in his current situation.
Asumu franticly searched for a way out of his (not so) certain doom and abruptly, in the corner of his eye, he saw something black. Something that definitely wasn't a rock. As the warmage swung down his hammer, smashing through stone and air, Asumu grabbed the ebony item with his left hand to block it. Whatever was that thing, he didn't hope that it could withstand the full force of the warhammer; he only wanted to redirect the force of the blow a bit.
What happened after that was nothing either of them anticipated.
As it turned out, the black thingy was a sword. And it sliced through the warhammer like a hot knife goes through a stick of butter. Asumu only held the weapon (luckily) blade up to block the attack and the head of the hammer simply passed through it and hit the floor in two separate pieces. The warmage stared at him with eyes double the size what was healthy. Asumu stared at the weapon in his hand in the same way. Then his astonishment slowly gave way to admiration.
The sword in his grip was elegant and beautiful. At first glance it didn't really look like a weapon at all, more like a simple rod. The whole thing from the hilt to the tip of the blade was made out of one big onyx crystal. It was blacker than the night sky, devoid of colors like a black hole. There was no crossguard on it; the blade was straight and one-edged. It didn't have a narrowing tip but an angular one. The surface of the whole sword was not flintlike but smooth, shining and perfect.
It was a true masterpiece.
Like everything else made from the right crystal, the sword hummed with magic. It was light like a feather but could cut through anything. Not just material, magical seals, too.
The warmage was still in complete shock when Asumu liberated his head from his neck. The huge body crumbled next to the useless warhammer while the wide-eyed head rolled away in the dust. Asumu stepped over it, not bothering with a second glance. He had more interesting things in his hands now.
He did a few experimental swings with the onyx sword. Light and deadly. In the utter silence around him he could even hear the air getting sliced apart. He was so excited he couldn't even feel his exhaustion anymore.
"This sword is brilliant!" Happily, Asumu turned towards the monks who stood at the entrance of the cave in stunned motionlessness with their chins on the ground and their eyes yo-yoing between him and the dangling weapon. "Who made it? Why did you leave it here to gather dust? And– why are you looking at me like that?"
One of the monks gulped audibly and stepped forward. "My lord…" He swallowed again. "My most honorable lord, that is our sacred sword, the– the Black Claw."
"Oh… ooooh!" Realization drew on Asumu's face. "Sorry, really sorry! Didn't know." Desacralizing a basically holy relic was not the best way to make friends with the locals. If his mother had been here she would have scolded him into oblivion. "Sorry. I will just… put it back… there." With an awkward smile he sidelined to the altar from where he snatched off the sword, and proceeded to place it back while apologizing feverishly.
"No-no," objected the monk after he shook himself out of another fit of shock, "you don't need to. Whoever could lift up the sword and wield it, that one is the true master of it. The Black Claw is yours." Then he bowed his head deeply and after a beat his fellow monks rashly copied him. It wouldn't be a good idea to be at the bad side of the future ruler of the universe.
"Really? Mine?" Asumu just blinked, then a childish smile lit up his face. "Thanks! I will take care of it, promise!" And with that Asumu walked away, humming happily. World domination was a boring prospect but he couldn't wait to see his cousins' face when he showed them his new, incredible weapon!
The monks simply stared after him and the remaining soldiers of the warmage run away in terror.