A Dangerous Encounter
Having woken up much earlier than usual, James was dressed and ready to embark on his journey alone. He unlatched the front door and was about to leave when he heard a floor board creak behind him. That’s where James found Jaycee standing at the other end of the room dressed and ready to begin her day, as well.
“I told you this was something that I had to do on my own,” said James, looking ahead rather than at Jaycee.
“Do you remember the last time we did this?” asked Jaycee. “How I begged you not to go, but you went anyway. I thought I was never going to see you again.”
“I came back, didn’t I?”
“I just don’t want to feel that way again. Each day that passed made me feel worse inside for letting you go. I thought if I had just gone with you, then nothing bad could happen, because we would look out for each other.”
“You have nothing to worry about. I can take care of myself.”
“But you don’t have to,” said Jaycee. She then made her way to James and stood with her back pressed against his. “You haven’t been afraid to ask for help when you know you needed it. You didn’t always do that. You’ve also been more open with the rest of us. It’s as if something happened to you the last time you left us.”
“What exactly are you trying to say?” asked James.
“What I’m trying to say is, there has to be another reason for why you think you have to do this on your own. You know you need our help.”
“There is no other reason. This is my problem, not yours.”
“I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re lying,” said Jaycee.
James took a deep breath and stood silent for a moment. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” he said. “That’s the reason why I have to do this on my own.”
So surprised by James’ answer was Jaycee that she was unable to reply.
“This is my fight and my fight alone,” said James. “If anything were to happen to you, I would never be able to forgive myself. I hope now you can understand why I have to do this on my own.” James then made a hasty exit.
Leaning against a tree not far from the house was Archer. “I was beginning to wonder what was taking you so long,” he told an approaching James. “I bet you thought we were all still asleep, didn’t you?”
“I couldn’t ask you to go with me,” said James. “There was no sense in putting any of you in danger for something that had nothing to do with you.”
“Understandable,” said Archer. “But as your teacher, it’s my duty to protect you. You understand that, don’t you?”
James nodded, believing it was only out of obligation that Archer would want to join him on his mission.
“But as your friend, I can’t let you do this on your own.”
What Archer had said immediately lifted James’ spirits.
“And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way,” said Archer, directing his attention toward his home. Standing in front of Archer’s home was Jaycee, who was intently watching the two. A feeling of remorse quickly filled James when he saw the look on her face. The words Jaycee had spoken to him came to James at that moment, and he knew she was right when she said nothing could happen to them if they looked out for each other.
“If this is really something that everyone wants, then it wouldn’t be right for me to stand in their way,” said James. “To be honest, this was never something I wanted to do on my own. I guess I was just too afraid to ask for your help this time.”
Archer patted James on the back, then nodded to Jaycee, whose expression quickly changed to one that far better suited such an appealing face. She then wasted no time in making her way over.
“Then it’s agreed,” said Archer. “We go together or we don’t go at all.”
“But where’s Aiko?” asked James.
“She must still be asleep.”
After Jaycee had joined James and Archer, Aiko leaped out of a nearby tree. She let out a shout that startled the others as she did. “You didn’t think I was going to let you have all the fun, now, did you?” she asked.
“Thank you, all of you,” said James. “I know that together we won’t fail.”
“Spoken like a true leader,” said Aiko.
“I’m no leader,” said James. “Archer’s always been the one who’s led us. I don’t see why this time should be any different.”
“This is your mission more than it is ours,” said Archer. “Maybe you should lead. Isn’t that the goal you’ve been working so hard to achieve?”
“Wherever you lead, we’ll follow,” said Jaycee.
“If you believe in me, then I’ll do it,” said James. He then briefly looked to the sky. “As my brother used to say, we will let no obstacle stand in our way.”
Shadow Kahn sat motionless upon his throne. “So, their journey has finally begun,” he said, turning his attention to Sage, who was once again standing in a brief area of light. “I want you to take that boy’s sword, and I want you to do it by any means necessary.”
“That sword will be yours, my lord,” said Sage, who wanted nothing more in the world than to please his master. But at the same time, Sage knew that when he went for the sword, he would most certainly come face to face with Aiko again. “That girl is going to pay for what she did to me,” he whispered.
The group had been traveling for about an hour when they passed between a pair of steep ridges. There was no way they could have known that a man was sitting on the edge of one them and watching the group as they passed by below him.
A number of rocks fell down the side of one of the ridges and landed near James. He looked up but found nothing.
“Is something wrong?” asked Jaycee.
“It’s nothing,” said James. “Let’s keep moving.”
The mysterious man resumed his observation of the travelers, but he did so now from on the same path they were traveling.
As the group continued on their journey, Archer couldn’t help but take quick peeks at the girls. He wondered if they were up to such a daunting challenge. He knew quite well that they were strong, but he was unsure if they were strong enough for the mission they were on.
* * *
Archer was at his open bedroom window taking in the beauty of the night. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea for us to take the girls along,” he said.
“How can you say that?” asked Vera from the comfort of the couple’s bed. “If you don’t let the girls go, then all the training they’ve done will have been for nothing. Isn’t this what they’ve been working so hard for, to prove that they’re just as able as any man? And now that a threat has risen, you have the nerve to tell them that they’re not good enough to face it?”
“It’s not that,” said Archer.
“Is it because you think I need someone here to help take care of me?”
“No, of course not.”
Vera folded her arms. “If you refuse to let the girls go with you, then I’ll know that’s the reason why. You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking such a thing. I’m a grown woman. I can take care of myself. I don’t have to remind you that I was doing just fine before you came along. If there’s anyone who needs taking care of, it’s you.”
“I know you can take care of yourself,” said Archer. “I never said you couldn’t.”
“So, you’re going to let the girls go with you?”
“Of course,” replied Archer. “When did I ever say they couldn’t?”
* * *
The group arrived at a clearing in the forest that contained a modest house. A woman was hanging clothing out to dry, while her husband tended to the garden. When the two caught sight of the newcomers, they immediately stopped what they were doing and quickly made their way to them.
“It’s good to see you, son,” said James’ father. He and his wife then took turns embracing their son.
“We were wondering when you were going to visit,” said James’ mother.
“I’m sorry I didn’t visit sooner,” said James. “I’ve just been training so hard that I forgot how long it had been since I last saw you two.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said James’ mother. “We’re just so happy to see you. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away. The important thing is, you’re here now.”
“Just don’t make us wait this long again,” joked James’ father.
“I’ll try not to,” said James.
James’ mother then turned her attention to the rest of the group. “It’s good to see all of you,” she said. “How have you been, Miss Aiko? You haven’t been getting into too much trouble, have you?”
Hearing such a question prompted an exuberant laugh to burst from Aiko. “Maybe just a little,” she replied.
“And how have you been, Jaycee?” James’ mother had used a much softer tone with her than she had used with Aiko, for James’ mother had a great fondness for Jaycee as she was well aware of how the shy young lady felt about her son.
“I’ve been well,” said Jaycee, cheeks blushed. “Thank you for asking.” She then lowered her head to keep from showing her embarrassment.
“So, are you on an adventure?” asked James’ father.
“Yeah!” exclaimed Aiko. “We’re on a quest to find a magical sword that will destroy an evil sorcerer that plans on destroying mankind!”
To ensure her friend said nothing more to expose their plans, Jaycee clamped her hand over Aiko’s mouth. “You know how involved Aiko gets with her fairy tales. She sometimes acts as if she’s one of the characters.”
James’ parents were at a loss for words after witnessing such odd behavior.
“The truth is, we’re just on another routine training mission,” said Archer. “We have to keep our skills sharp.”
After their greetings, everyone broke into smaller groups. Archer was conversing with James’ parents, while James went off on his own. Jaycee and Aiko decided to use the time to discuss the incident that had just taken place.
“How come I couldn’t tell James’ parents what we were really doing?” asked Aiko, tossing stones into a nearby grouping of bushes.
“They’ve already lost one son,” said Jaycee. “Any mention of their other being in danger would only worry them.” Jaycee then sighed. “I know it’s wrong to keep this from them, but sometimes you have to keep things from people to spare their feelings.”
“I guess you’re right.”
James was standing before a small wooden cross beside his parents’ home.
“I’m sorry that it’s been so long since I last visited you. I’ve just been so focused on my training. I’ve become a lot stronger since we last spoke. I still have a long way to go before I’m as strong as you were, but with enough training . . . I’ll make you proud.”
James then thought back to his encounter with Shadow Kahn. “That man said your sword was worthless. But he was wrong. Any sword that belonged to someone as strong and brave as you is a sword any warrior would be proud to do battle with.” James then lowered his head. “But I have a new sword now.”
The topic of Archer and James’ parents’ conversation was more about the progression of the young man as a person than as a warrior.
“James looks well,” said his father.
“Yes, he’s been doing very well,” replied Archer. “He’s not far from where his brother was at this age. Who knows, he might even someday surpass him.”
“You’re keeping a close eye on him, aren’t you?” asked his mother. “He doesn’t still talk about finding that man?”
“I hate to tell you,” said Archer, “but not long ago, James went looking for him. It was so unexpected. I had no chance to stop him.”
“James went after the man that killed William?” asked James’ father.
“He was gone for nearly a month,” said Archer. “We feared the worst had happened to him. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell you, and for that, I am truly sorry. I had no right to keep something like that from you. But just when it seemed we would never see him again, James returned. It came as a shock to all of us.”
“Did he find what he was looking for?” asked James’ father.
“No. But the strange thing is, that journey might have been the best thing for him. Since his return, he’s been a completely different person.”
“What could have happened to bring upon such a change?”
Archer looked toward the wooden cross where Jaycee and Aiko now stood. “I believe it’s because he realized there are some things more important than revenge.”
Standing before his memorial, Jaycee and Aiko’s conversation inevitably focused on James’ older brother, William.
“The stories James has told us about his brother really make me wish I had gotten the chance to meet him,” said Aiko.
“They were more than just brothers,” said Jaycee. “They were best friends. From what his mother has told me, James wanted to do everything his brother did. Had William not died, he and James would be side by side in the king’s army as we speak.”
“But James is here with us. It makes you wonder if things don’t happen for a reason.” Aiko then placed her hands together before her face and closed her eyes. “Please watch over us on our journey.”
Jaycee focused on the back of the house. There she found James staring into the sky as he held his sword at his side. She thought James was looking at something, but all she saw when she looked to the sky was a small gathering of clouds.
With such a long day behind them, everyone took to the comfort of bed once the day had fully given way to the night.
Behind a grouping of bushes stood Sage. He watched the house intently, knowing that he was going to have difficulty obtaining James’ sword without waking the others. But if he could draw James away from them, then his plan would certainly come to fruition.
The sound of footsteps caught Sage’s attention. Now standing beside him was Shadow Kahn. “My lord,” said a surprised Sage.
Shadow Kahn seemed almost oblivious to Sage as he paid his follower no attention. He then walked into the clearing, prompting Sage to follow.
Shadow Kahn walked to the wooden cross beside the house. Both hands immediately clenched into fists. “When they leave tomorrow,” he said, “you are to follow them and claim that boy’s sword.”
“Why not take the sword tonight?” asked Sage.
“We will let them be for tonight,” said Shadow Kahn, focused intently on the house. “I see no reason to rush this.” He then abruptly turned his back on Sage and began his trek back into the darkness of the forest from whence he had come.
“Secrets are being kept,” whispered Sage.
“And one more thing,” said Shadow Kahn, who momentarily ceased his departure. “You are to let no obstacle stand in your way.”
Bright and early the next morning, the group continued on their journey. Though the others followed their leader, they were unsure as to where James was leading them.
“So, where do we go from here?” asked Jaycee. “We have no idea where the third sword could possibly be.”
“Don’t ask me why,” said James, “but for some reason, I believe the third sword is going to find us. All we have to do is keep going.”
Sage emerged from the cover of the forest and walked onto the path a distance behind the group. “How unfortunate,” he said, “those fools have no idea just how close they are to their demise.” Sage’s icy glare then became focused squarely on Aiko.
After a few hours, the group came to a clearing in the forest and decided it was as good a time as any to take a break. Aiko took the opportunity to lie on the forest floor, while the others decided what they were going to do next.
“I think it’s time we found something to eat,” said James.
“I remember from the last time we traveled through these woods that there’s a river not far from here,” said Jaycee. “Aiko and I should have no trouble catching fish.”
“A river?” asked Aiko.
“Then I’ll gather some wood for a fire,” said Archer.
“What does that leave for me?” asked James. “I can’t just stand around while everyone else does all the work.”
“He’s right,” said Aiko. “James can take my place. Really, I don’t mind. I don’t even know how to catch fish. I’ll just be in the way.”
“You just rest,” said Jaycee. “Let us take care of it.” Jaycee then took Aiko by the arm and hoisted her off the ground. “Let’s go, Aiko,”
“But I don’t want to catch fish,” said Aiko.
Watching from a safe distance was Sage. So close was he now to reaching his goal that nothing short of a miracle would stop him from fulfilling his mission.
When the girls found what they were looking for, Jaycee wasted no time in leaping onto a rock in the river and reaching in to try to catch as many fish as she could.
Aiko, on the other hand, remained on dry land with feet bare. When she dipped her foot into the water, something occurred to her. “This river’s deep,” she said. Aiko shrugged her shoulders when she found Jaycee looking at her.
Archer had no trouble finding firewood. He had already collected a bundle of sticks and many more were waiting for him scattered along the ground.
James was passing the time on a hollowed out log. “Why do I and Shadow Kahn have the power to call upon these swords?” he thought. “What makes us so different from everyone else? And why are we so alike?”
James’ concentration was broken when he heard a twig nearby snap. That was when he found Sage watching him.
“It was kind of your friends to leave you here all alone,” said Sage. “That makes the task of obtaining your sword so much easier.” Sage then drew his sword. “So, what are you waiting for? Call upon your weapon.”
James pounced off the log and extended his arm in preparation of summoning his sword. He remained in this stance for only a short time before allowing his arm to come back to rest at his side. “I don’t need to use that sword,” he thought. “I’ll prove that William’s sword isn’t worthless.” James then drew his brother’s sword.
“How dare you. You don’t think I’m worthy to do battle against using your other sword? That arrogance is going to cost you much more than just a weapon.”
Though he was incensed by what he saw as a clear insult, Sage made no advance. His hesitancy was due to not knowing what to do if James refused to call upon his sword. Shadow Kahn had given Sage strict orders to claim the sword once James summoned it, but if the sword never appeared, then it would be impossible to take.
“If he won’t call upon his sword, then I’ll force him,” whispered Sage, who then charged. James did the same. With incredible ferocity, the two clashed weapons. The power that Sage possessed was nearly enough to knock James backward, making it evident as to which one of them was at the disadvantage.
“I’ve been told much about you,” said Sage. “You’ve never been tested in any real kind of combat.”
Rather than giving a reply, James unleashed an attack that he was sure would rival one of his opponent’s. The attack, however, was nothing Sage couldn’t handle as he was able to block it with relative ease. This left the two once again to stare each other down from behind their locked weapons.
Wanting to bring an end to the fight before the others could return, Sage began his effort to do so. He used his superior strength to force both swords back toward his opponent. With James unable to muster the strength to push back, Sage was able to shove him to the ground, temporarily knocking the wind out of him.
“You’d better summon your weapon now,” demanded Sage, who loomed ominously over his fallen adversary. “Or would you rather face the consequences?”
“Stop right there!” shouted Jaycee who, along with Aiko and Archer, had returned to the clearing at just the right time.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave right now,” said Archer.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do to stop me,” said Sage before turning his attention back to James. He then lifted his sword above his head.
Archer took aim and was ready to fire an arrow when, unexpectedly, Aiko began an ill-advised charge.
“Aiko, no!” shouted Jaycee.
Sage turned at just the right moment and slammed the back of his fist across Aiko’s face, knocking her to the ground with nearly enough force to render her unconscious. He then stood over her in the same fashion he had been standing over James. “Since you’re so eager to die,” he said, “then allow me to grant your request.”
Archer took aim again and fired an arrow. Before it could strike Sage, he snatched it out of the air with the agility never before seen from a normal person.
“There is so little you know about us,” said Sage, throwing the arrow away.
“Marvelous,” said an unfamiliar voice.
The origin of the voice quickly became known as a man no one knew entered the clearing. He happened to be the man who had been following James and the others. “I must admit,” he said, “I’m quite impressed by the way you fight.”
“Who do you think you are?” asked Sage.
“It was rude of me to intrude on you without properly introducing myself, wasn’t it?” asked the man. He then bowed and proceeded to reveal his identity. “My name is Raspheet,” he said. “And I’m ever so glad to meet all of you.”
“Well, Raspheet, I suggest you be on your way, lest you desire to face the same fate as the rest of these fools.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of myself if I were you.”
“And why would that be?” asked Sage.
Raspheet extended his arm and clenched his hand into a fist. The instant he closed his eyes, a sword appeared within his grasp.
James had caught his breath just in time to witness the spectacle.
“The third sword,” said Sage.
Aiko’s eyes had opened just in time to witness the appearance of the sword. She wanted to be amazed but was still far too angry to think about anything other than what Sage had done to her and how she was going to make him pay for it.
Jaycee and Archer could hardly believe what they had seen, as well.
“Would you care to take back what you just said to me?” asked Raspheet, pointing his blade in Sage’s direction.
“My mission is to obtain all of the swords for the master,” said Sage. “And the only way I can do that is by force.”
“My boy, even with your prowess, I doubt you would stand much of a chance against someone who’s mastered one of the three swords,” said Raspheet. “You would be wise to walk away while you still have the chance.”
Looking as if they were no longer of any concern to him, Sage walked away from James and Aiko and to within a few yards of his newest foe.
“Your challenge has been accepted,” said Raspheet.
Well aware of the severity of what was happening, Shadow Kahn did nothing more than sit upon his throne. “Raspheet,” he said. “So . . . you finally came back for us.”
Sage and Raspheet stood ready, neither making the slightest of moves.
As the others waited for the battle to begin, they all had the same question running through their minds. Were they watching foe versus friend or foe versus foe?