Scion of Blades
Ruins of North Dallas, Texas, October 17, 2012It would happen soon. Vassago was on the move, heading for the forested area to the west, working his way ever closer to the little group of humans and the Angel of Death who escorted them. The Scion of Blades could feel the Stoneborn Serpents crawling over the earth, could hear their cousins the Lumberers coming behind them, carrying rock and steel and death. Before them all went Vassago, his power and presence setting him apart from his servants. The other one was there, too, the one Samael called Deimos. The Scion had seen him before, his ashen skin and flowing black hair traced with amber lines, chains swirling around him as he brought down destruction on the Earth and its people. On the First Day, Deimos had killed an entire squad of policemen, their bullets bouncing off of him as he laughed maniacally. Deimos gave off a different sort of energy than Vassago. Where the old demon was a steadfast wall, unbreakable and unyielding, Deimos was a wildfire, spreading his power out in great swathes, announcing himself wherever he went with a flourish of fire and chains. It was obvious to the Scion of Blades that this one was younger and more impulsive than Vassago. Perhaps that was why they were together, Vassago might be playing mentor to the younger demon. The Scion stood, the predawn mists gathering about him. He was waiting on the roof of a house not far from the opening in his Blade Rain, as Samael had suggested. When the Demon of Death arrived, he looked incredibly old. Samael’s beard was more scraggly than it had been the day before, a sure sign that he was under more stress than usual.
“He’s bringing a hundred or so troops with him. The others seem to have been dismissed.” Samael reported.
“How many are Lumberers? If there’s anything I’m worried about, it’s them.”
“Ten. They shouldn’t be too much of a problem, if you take Vassago quickly.”
“Do you really think I’m ready? Can I fight Vassago and hope to come out alive?”
“You are the Blood of Arthur, the only human who ever brought Vassago to bleed. And you are twice the warrior Arthur was. You’ll have to stop the Blade Rain, but that was inevitable. You cannot fight and protect the others.”
“I know, I know. As soon as Vassago gets close I’ll drop it and face him.”
“And the others. You’ll tell them.”
“This is not their war, Samael. I will not have them fight it.” They’d been over that before, he was certain. He knew Samael was right, that the charade could not last forever, but he had to try.
“I cannot force you to, but I advise that you come clean, boy. There can be no benefit to hiding the truth at this point. You cannot keep them out of this, even if you want to.” It had become Samael’s argument against his plan. The Demon of Death was a being of action, and he wanted to use the other Scions to their full potential. It would certainly have been effective, but the Scion of Blades was still against it. He could not ask that of them.
“You still have time, kid. There’s at least a day left.” Samael offered.
“Like that would make it any easier.”
There was a definite feeling in his gut that he’d missed something important as he sat up in the soft feather bed Selina kept in the favor house, his skin stinking of her and his breath of last night’s drinks. She was next to him, still asleep, her dark hair pouring over her tanned skin like a waterfall. Selina was always the best, and Serrala always a pleasant trip, all told. Mazkus left her fee on the nightstand and gathered his clothing.
The city seemed bustling and busy as ever, crawling with every type of person and creature, as befitted a port. He strode down the main drag, looking confident and clean except for his hair, which was a shaggy brown mop against a newly-shaven face. Selina was a woman of many talents. Still, though Serrala was exactly as it should be, the feeling he’d woken to wouldn’t leave him. Something was wrong, he’d missed something critical. His dreams had been dark that night, red swords clashing against a red spear as the air swirled with blades and fire. It all meant something, he knew it. There was a thread, somewhere, somehow, that connected it all. As he strode down the street toward Ragg’s, he tried to puzzle it out. What was fate trying to tell him?
He waltzed into Ragg’s shop as he always did: brash, arrogant, vigilante and vagabond, just as Ragg had taught him. Ragg was standing in the lobby with a frown painting his weathered features.
“You brought them to me. Of all people. ME, Mazkus, the man who helped you when you were a lost little child with nothing but a stolen star-ship and a scrappy demeanor. Tell me you didn’t know who they were. Tell me you didn’t know what they wanted here.” Mazkus reeled at Ragg’s words. What the hell was going on?
“I… I know they’re Vanguard… but… what are you –“
“I was Vanguard once myself, boy, though it was long before you were born and long before the Ra’Zaan Empire came. But why – WHY – would you bring her here, to their waiting arms?”
“Bring her? Fox?” Mazkus was becoming more and more confused by the second.
“Fox? You were fooled by that thin disguise? I thought I’d taught you better, kid.”
“I … I don’t –“
“Why would you bring our last hope straight to the enemy?” Ragg yelled, grabbing his shirt and laying a tight fist into his cheek. Mazkus was still trying to understand, until Ragg shoved the pieces of the puzzle together.
“You brought our Princess here.”
Mazkus promptly fainted.
Duke Powers led the way as the group headed towards the break in the swords. As the march wore on from early to mid-morning, the number of swords and their overall density seemed to be lowering, as though the storm was losing its power. Maybe Azrael was right, and it was the work of another Scion.
Azrael was gone that day, saying he needed more time with the dead. Duke supposed it was all for the better; though the Angel of Death was an effective teacher, he was not the sort of traveling companion anyone would prefer. He was odd to look at, with his eerie pale yellow eyes set into his pale blue, noseless face, and his sense of humor, though improving, still sat decisively on the morbid end of funny.
Maya called a halt for the fourth time around midday, claiming aching legs and that North must be tiring since he didn’t have the powers of a Scion to help fuel him, though from the way North looked the claim was groundless. Maya had taken more and more of a fancy to North lately, and Duke wondered if she thought nobody realized it. He surmised it was a natural occurrence, her grasping at the emotional warmth North could provide in this trying time while feeling a compulsion to protect him because she had the ability to do so. He could tell it wasn’t working though. North wasn’t himself anymore. While they were off training, he was wandering town doing as he pleased, never once thinking of what could happen to him, which Maya had begun to scold him about. When he was around, he was clearly depressed and emotionally withdrawn. Duke sympathized with that. He’d been turning himself into mist more often than not now, slipping into locked places and practicing turning the things inside into mist as well. He’d be an expert thief, if such a concept as theft could still exist.
Maya sat down on a curb and watched the men meander around. Ryouta used the time to add more mana bullets to a satchel on his hip that rode right at the base of his red t-shirt. North walked across the street to a gas station, looking for water. Maya was watching him through the glass, and Duke imagined she was scolding him again mentally. Duke sat down next to her on the curb.
“You don’t have to be so protective of him, you know. He knows what he’s doing.” North had been on several backpacking and camping trips in his youth; he and Duke had talked about it often. They’d even gone camping together a few times.
“He needs me,” Maya responded, “He can’t fight for himself and it isn’t safe out here. I have to keep him safe, or he’ll die. Azrael said as much. Aren’t you worried about that?” The look on her face was serious.
“We all know what Azrael said, Maya,” Duke explained, “but I don’t think he needs smothering protection. You’ve been watching him like a hawk since we got up this morning. If you want to protect him, that’s fine, but realize that we’re all in this together. There’s nothing that can threaten him here.”
“He’s right,” Ryouta chimed in, “North may not be able to fight, but he’s not exactly putting himself in danger unwittingly. He’ll be alright. Are you sure you’re ok, Maya?”
“Ryo’s got a point, Maya,” Duke said, “You worry so much about North that you’re not thinking about your own safety.” Maya started mulling it over as Duke stood up. A water bottle almost hit him in the face a moment later as North tossed it to him.
“You guys were talking about me, weren’t you?” he asked.
“What?” Ryo replied, “What makes you think that?”
“The guilty looks on your faces. Come on, let’s keep moving.” North said, giving them a warm grin.
A song wound its way though Duke’s mind as they walked, something his mother had sung him once. It was a tale of heroes who fought against dragons long before any of them had been born. It had been his favorite when he was little. He hummed the little bit of lyrics he knew:
A last breath of air,
A quick kiss goodbye.
A smile for the rising sun.
Onward to Avalon,
He cries – Onward to Avalon.
His family was descended from knights of old, and he was a man who should have realized he was destined for something more than an art degree. Somewhere out there in the wide world, Duke Powers knew there was a King waiting to knight him into service, and now he had a service to offer.
Maya walked quietly next to North, wondering whether or not the guys had been right. He looked like he was alright, and was visibly less tired than she was. His brown hair fell past his shoulders and framed his thin face, and his green eyes seemed more alive than they had lately. Something about finding a new base seemed to bring him out of the bad mood he’d been in and energize him. The dark lines under his eyes had even faded a little. She smiled as she listened to him talking with Ryo as they walked the empty streets. They were talking about historical figures, jokingly mismatching deed and personage and weaving a fantastic tale.
“I grieve for our race if you two are the only history teachers left.” Maya told them. They both laughed it off until a Stoneborn serpent launched out of the bushes next to the road and tackled Ryo to the ground. Maya’s arm shot out instinctively and she telekinetically shoved North in the opposite direction of the demon. She could hear him hit the ground as she turned and launched the serpent high into the air. Duke helped Ryo to his feet, and the sniper launched himself backward to where North was sprawled on the grass.
“Throw me!” Duke yelled. She did.
Duke caught up with the serpent as it fell and shoved his enchanted dagger straight into the beast’s throat. As it dragged him down to the ground, he continued the laceration down its body, spilling hot blood and entrails to the concrete. It was over in an instant. As the beast writhed in pain, Ryo loaded a bullet into his rifle and then silenced it.
North was on his feet before Maya could get to him. He wiped blood off of his lip, and smiled at her.
“Close call. Thanks.” He seemed so arrogant, as though he hadn’t almost died. She punched him in the chest lightly, and hugged him. He patted her back until she let go, and the group moved on. Night was going to fall soon.
By the time he’d returned from a short bathroom break, the swords had begun to fall from the sky again. He sighed as he watched Ryouta and Duke prepping a fire. They were going to camp under the stars that night, and probably for many nights to come. He saw Maya come out of the woods, straightening her white skirt as she walked. Azrael was still gone, he noted. He took a seat and opened a bag of chips that Ryo offered him. They’d walked five miles that day, to the opening in the wall of swords that had appeared the day before. It had been a taxing march, especially since none of them were accustomed to walking so much in one day.
Ryo took first watch, and North decided to sit with him. Maya and Duke were both out cold after dinner. They sat and watched the moon, its pale light bathing the world in surreal shades of white and black.
“Things have changed so much so fast.” North said, shifting his gaze from sky to ground.
“I know,” Ryo replied, “There’s nothing we can do but keep moving and hope we can live through all this. I really miss my family, but my heart tells me they’ll be alright.”
“I think they probably are. Your dad’s not about to give up without a fight, right?”
“Yours either, North. I hope we get the chance to find him though. You’d be better off with your family than you would with us.”
“I’m not so sure.” North replied, and his eyes came to rest on Maya, sleeping soundly across the fire from him.
“Don’t go down that road again, North,” Ryo warned, “I told you it was a bad idea the first time, didn’t I? I was right. I’m still right. You two just aren’t going to work.”
“I know that. I’m just an emotional crutch right now because she’s worried about her family and other friends and doesn’t know what or who to count on apart from us. Once we find her family, we can leave her with them and keep moving.” He quietly hoped they got that far, and that when they did she’d stop being so odd.
“It’s funny, you know? We all had these plans and ideas about who we were and where we were going… and now it all means nothing. Who can say what the future holds now?” Ryo seemed downcast for once. North put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“We’ll make our own path, Ryo. We always have, right? It’s just tougher than before. Honestly, this is the most fun I’ve had in my entire life, even though I’m scared to death of every passing second. We lived in a world of mundane people and living mundane lives. Now, who knows what’s going on and what kind of adventures we’re going to have?”
“Only you could make a demon apocalypse an adventure, North. You, the only one of us without any special abilities, are the only one who can see the good in this.”
“That’s why we’re best friends, isn’t it?” North replied, a silly grin crossing his lips. Ryo nodded.
“For great justice?” Ryo asked.
“Great justice.” North agreed.
The night was dark and full of terrors, even with the mystical blades raining from the sky once more, though they were further apart and smaller than before. It was like when rain sprinkled, but with death in place of water. North had dropped off to sleep, leaving Ryouta Tensora alone with the darkness of the night, alone with the fire and steel and whispers and worries. All around them he could feel the Stoneborn closing in, could sense that the old demon Azrael had named as Vassago was coming closer and closer. He realized rather quickly that the little hail of swords only covered the area directly around the camp. His mind began to reel: either the Scion making it was tailing them, or it was Duke. Maya couldn’t be the one doing it, since the storm had been raging before her mind had been stable enough for such an exertion. If it was Duke after all… he wasn’t sure what he would do. From a practical standpoint, it was a point in their favor. It was the betrayal of trust that would underlay that idea that bit Ryouta to the bone. He trusted his friends, loved them, and always took them at their word. That was the meaning of friendship for him, the meaning his father had taught him when he was a child. He held to the hope it was someone they didn’t know who was tailing them. As he listened to one of the Stoneborn let out a roar in the distance, he hoped they could fight, too.
“The steel used in the chains isn’t bad, for Serralan make.” Matthias joked as they sat in the cold stone cell together.
“Though, I did think we’d receive a slightly more… regal welcome, all told.”
“Yes,” she answered, “They must be preparing a wonderful feast in my honor. Ooh – and a ball as well!” If there was one thing the Vanguardia family excelled at, it was playful sarcasm, though ‘playful’ was not the tone she had meant to convey. They sat for what seemed like hours and hours. It was supposed to have been an arms deal, quick and dirty and painless. She and Matt had the coin to pay, it was stored on the Infinite Dream, awaiting the completion of the deal with the Serralan brokers. Instead, they’d been sold out to Ra’Zaan, their cover as merchants blown and their true identities revealed. Princess Rillian Asellies Vanguardia, Lady of the Dawn. Vanguardia’s last hope. At least, I was supposed to be.
General Matthias Scales, her personal bodyguard since the before The Fall – the man who had smuggled her out of the capital as her father was captured along with the rest of his generals – sat next to her in steel fetters, victim of her grand master plan to retake her kingdom from the brutish and wicked Ra’Zaan. She knew in her heart that he didn’t blame her. He’d cared for her for so long now, countless days and nights, and he’d never said a word to rebuke her for her failures. A lesson, he’d call it. She hung her head. There was nothing left to talk about, nothing left to do but wait.
At least they wouldn’t die today. The Emperor would want to kill her himself. The last thing she thought of as she fell asleep was the boy she used to play with in the courtyards of Castle Gadras: General Andro’s son, Mazkus. Brown hair, pale skin, emerald eyes, valiant of heart and strong of will; he was a little older than her, but always treated her like the princess she was, never like a child. She used to cry when they’d play hide-and-seek and she couldn’t find him, but when he’d come and find her instead they’d laugh and smile. There was always a light behind his emerald eyes, a light that spoke of bravery and valor and a kind heart. She hoped silently, wished as hard as she could, that he would remember who she was, and come and find her just one last time. It was a foolish hope, though.
She was still a princess, but now he was just a starchaser.
Her watch was the second that night, and it would be the last, too. She could feel the demons out in the night, wandering the edges of the steel rain and waiting for a chance to strike, a chance she was more than certain would come before dawn. The blades were falling lighter still than they had when Ryouta had shaken her awake for her shift. They had made their camp against the new ruins of a brick wall in a grassy field, and she kept her back to it as she meditated. Things were most certainly not going well. Ryo had fallen asleep easily, saying he needed rest more than anything. She had orders to wake them if needed. Duke was scheduled to take the last watch, and looked like an innocent child when he slept, a sweet smile curving his lips. North was against the wall, too, though she couldn’t see his face from where she sat. The fire burned in front of her, and she watched it with glazed eyes as she sought out the being creating the steel storm. She found nothing.
From there, hours passed without event. Maya watched the fire, feeding it when she needed to, and kept a weather eye on the horizon. She didn’t even notice when it was time for Duke to take his watch, and hers crept on without a moment’s thought. The blades disappeared from the sky as the moon began to set, and most of them stabbed into the ground and stood firm.
Everything went into motion then. From all sides, the Stoneborn began to close in on the camp, their bodies slithering through the grass and trees and earth and rock. The ground shook, and Ryouta was on his feet immediately. The sun broke the sky, and Maya saw Vassago for the first time. Duke was screaming at her to run, Ryouta was preparing to fire. She couldn’t move as a long red spear slung off of the old demon’s back and its point slanted down at her.
“Where is the Scion of Blades?” Vassago yelled at her, his voice deep and dark and weary.
“I don’t know!” she cried back.
“Let her go!” shouted Duke from a few feet away. The red spear turned from her and the flat of its blade caught Duke in the chest, tossing him to the ground with a hard thud.
“I know the Blood of Arthur is here! You all reek of it. Which of you is it?!” the demon demanded again. When there was no answer, the red spear flashed towards Maya’s face. She tried to block it with her forearm, screaming as she did.
When cold red steel didn’t take her between the eyes a moment later, she looked up to find Vassago's eyes wide and focused, his gaze pointing behind her.
Her ears rang with a scream of pain from North, and she turned her head to look at him, her stomach tying itself in a knot.
He stood several feet away, his arms held out beside him in a welcoming gesture. A silvery blade pierced through his shirt at his chest, as though thrown from a good distance, spearing the man as though it were a dart and he the board. He screamed again, whipping his head forward, and Maya could see his eyes - wide, pupil-less, and lime green all over, as though they were nothing but a grassy ocean. To his side, a blade - one that had fallen from the storm - rose from the ground and rocketed toward him. It stabbed into his side as the blade in his chest disappeared into nothingness, and Maya saw then that it left no wound.
Then another blade rose, then another. North's body was whipped about like a rag doll as each sword in turn struck him, until at last no blades rose to meet him, and everything stood quiet. Maya could feel her heartbeat and hear her own blood as it pumped through her. Above her, Vassago stiffened, his eyes narrowing. He sniffed again, and then smiled wickedly.
A moment later the old demon lurched forward at breakneck speed, holding the crimson spear out before him, intent on shoving it straight into North's heart. Maya tried to raise her voice, tried to scream at him that he had to run, but no words escaped her mouth. North's hand shot up in an attempt to block, and Maya's scream finally surfaced as the tip of the spear touched the man's pale flesh.But the spear wasn't going through.