Jullandro closed and locked the door, a foolish gesture against those who were coming; it was more of an act of misplaced faith than protective.
“It’s Archmage Irhan and his men.They’re hunting you, Aleina.”
She only smiled. “Let them come.”
“You can’t defeat them.”
“How do you know?”
Jullandro swallowed, not wanting to say, though not saying it would mean the death of the only friend he ever made.
“Better than you have fought against them, and none survived.”
“Did any of them possess this sword?” She placed the blade under his neck and lifted his chin on the point, making it pucker.
Jullandro swallowed again, eyes fixed on the blade, making him almost cross-eyed.
It was a scarlet metal, rare, with a dark beauty to it that held the eyes. The name Soul Reaver was engraved into it in elegant script that belied bloody intentions.
“Then we don’t know if I can’t defeat them.”
Jullandro allowed himself an angry breath as she lowered the blade, putting it back in its sheathe. To him, fighting with a sword full of power wasn’t the same as fighting with skills against other men.
To be fair, however, she wasn’t fighting men; they merely looked the part.
They were dark mages who dealt in summoning, arrogant in their abilities despite countless tales about those who’d lost control of the summoned.
As they grew in power, they stole land and wealth, snatched women and children for slavery, slaughtered by magic the men who could fight, and the old people who could do neither, they cut down like wheat and burned in pyres.
Her grandparents had been in one of those.
He shook his head. Her own arrogance may actually make the difference.
Outside he heard them say, “She’s in here.”
“Run, Aleina. They know you’re here.”
She tied her hair back, and went out to meet them.
The air was awash in power as she faced their assembly, and a small flash of doubt darted through her like a minnow in shallow surf.
The men before her had robes of red gold, tied with black silk; there were orbs of eldritch light full of arcane power around their hands.
Aleina took a deep breath to calm herself. She would give them no fear to feed on.
In the depth of his cruelty, Archmage Irhan appeared to her in the shape of her grandfather.
“What sick madness is this?” she hissed, charging the man, only to find him not there, and behind her.
He dropped the form, his alternative human shape standing there, chuckling.
“Are you so easily baited, child? Fortunately for you, we’re as ancient as we are. If we were so impetuous as to attack as soon as possible, we’d be extinct.”
He sighed, even though he didn’t breathe; the illusion was quite masterful. “But these are things you learn in time, with every foe you face.”
His broadsword cleared its sheathe. He lifted it as if it weighed no more than a feather.
“Sometimes, you learn too late.” With no further hesitation, he came at her, fast and swinging.
“Like when I twist this blade in your heart!” He lunged at her, almost knocking the parrying blade from her grip. He kept her backing away, and off balance, not allowing her to establish a rhythm of her own, or set up a counter.
She’d relied too much on the blade’s power, but didn’t know if they’d been able to counter it.
Speed was her only ally. His swings were wide and powerful, and if he connected, or knocked Soul Reaver from her hand, she was dead. As she struggled to find a way to sidestep him and get inside, she noticed the lights around the hands of the mages intensifying.
Their hands were raised toward the battle, and their eyes were closed in serene concentration, confident in Irhan’s ability to defeat the child.
Several thoughts flashed through her mind: they were countering her sword’s magic, or feeding him energy, or weakening her, or all three. Her arms were already beginning to tire, and her breathing was growing jagged. She trained hard, and knew that shouldn’t be this early in the fight.
With nothing to lose she made a desperate choice, ran toward the cluster of men.
Caught off guard, before he realized what she was going to do, the Archmage stood there as she closed the distance and severed the right hand off the nearest mage to them.
Blood spurted, and his scream of pain rent the air.
The lights around all their hands went out, and whatever link there’d been was severed too as the hand fell, twitching on the ground.
She ran back to the Archmage, and engaged him anew.
Her strikes proved too fast with his connection broken, and lifting the sword in his own strength became a task he wasn’t up for, backpedaling until he was against the wall of the house.
As the mages crashed from the broken link, they began to run toward her to physically kill her.
The point of Soul Reaver made the skin on the Archmage’s neck pucker.
“It’s a good thing I’m not as ancient as you; you see, there’s a place for impetuosity.”
He shuddered and thrashed as the sword pierced his throat, and his human form began to recede as he tried to escape.
The wave of mages cresting toward her crashed and collapsed inside their robes, piles of bone burning like embers, quickly crumbling to ash.
Aleina was overcome by how close she’d come to dying, and fell to her knees beside the dead demon.
Holding onto the pommel of the sword, she lifted her eyes as dim scarlet light emanated from the blade, and the blood she’d drawn seeped into it.
Did I imagine that? So tired…
Jullandro was there beside her, his hand on her shoulder, which he snatched away when she looked up.
“What’s wrong, Jullandro?” Her eyes felt hot, but not from tears. She used Soul Reaver’s pommel for support as she moved to stand.
“Come, let’s get inside.” He helped her to her feet, and kept his arm around her shoulder, taking the weight as she hobbled, weakened from the draining pace of the fight and the magic they used to attack her.
Reaching the house, he guided her to the looking glass. “Steady, now…”
Spots of blood dotted her flesh, and her hair drooped damp and lanky over her forehead, but her eyes were alight with a dull scarlet glow.
“I’m not sure, Aleina, but I think you’ve just become the Archmage.”
The sword fell from her grip, but her eyes were still shining.
The sword…I didn’t know. The air around them grew charged with power.
All Jullandro could do was hold her as she turned from the mirror and cried.