First and foremost, you should know that this is a story meant to read because you like reading, not because you want serious answers about Algo - look to other writers for those, if you really want them. Also, I am not English, so I might make some linguistic errors... but what I hope to contribute is a good story, not fancy language.
Anyway, this story takes place in "the middle ages" - somewhere between the end of PSII and the beginning of PSIV, and (though you might recognise someone later on ;> ... then again maybe not) has little to do with the actual PS series. It's a production of my own imagination and nothing else; just a story about what might - and what might not - have happened in between. Since this story happens several hundred years from both part II and IV, the techniques and magics or whatever that the characters use may come from either game - or be something entirely new, that I've made up on my own (where does it say I can't?).
This is Motavia, in the year AW 1799. The Algo solar system has recovered somewhat from the destruction of the Mother Brain. The circle of destruction started by that event is broken; the world is no longer in chaos. Slowly, people are starting to realise that maybe it is possible to make a new start, rediscover that which been lost. Much has changed; yet more is going to change before the desert-planet is once more restored to the Motavia we knew.
Meanwhile, the android named Wren is working to restore the old environmental control systems and build new ones to replace those destroyed, making the planet increasingly inhabitable. Only a few Palmans remain and the Motavians are almost extinct, yet the population slowly starts to grow once more - though the denizens of Mota don't notice it much, being scattered in many small villages and camps. As most old knowledge is lost, the people have to start from the beginning again - but, as they know nothing else, they do not complain.
Along with the knowledge of things like electricity and machinery, something far more important is on the verge of being forgotten - the use of techniques. Those who use techniques at all seldom manage to learn more than the basics, and the few who know more guard their secrets ferociously. Slowly, the knowledge is dieappearing...
Still, some, other things do remain. The warrior-caste known as "hunters", though less numerous than they once were, still continue their work as mercenaries, rangers and exterminators - for not all the bio-monsters were killed during the collapse. Quite the opposite, actually, as some of them have started to breed, and in some cases crossbreed, spawning more monsters - and the denizens of Motavia include many natural, carnivorous creatures that can be dangerous both to Palmans and Motavians. Ironically, the hunters, though they seldom used techniques in the past, are now some of the most dedicated in the struggle to keep the lore alive, not wanting to lose one of the most potent weapons in Algo. Nevertheless, Technique-masters are few and far between, even more so now than before...
"Now, now, don't be sad, Ash! I will be back in a few days! Ye gods, it isn't as if I was leaving for good or something!" The man who had been speaking leant down to hug his wife, and, somehow, ended up kissing her, too. "If you don't let go of me, I will never be able to leave," he said in a mock-serious tone. "Wipe the tears from your face. I am just going to town for a couple of days." She still didn't let go. "We really need the tools," he reminded her. "Remember, the sooner I go, the sooner I will be back. Come on, Ash, you're not normally such a crybaby..."
"I know... Take care," she whispered, just loud enough for him to hear. He smiled, but having his chin against her shoulder, the woman hardly noticed it. "Say good-bye to the kids first. You promised them you would."
"Yes, I know." Turning his head slightly, he called, "Shane! Dark! You get your butts out here this very instant!" This might sound as if he was angry, but the children were used to his way of speech, and would know that he wasn't - he always sounded like that.
Shane, the youngest, arrived first. Four years with her had been as trying as his entire life as a hunter - fifteen years on the road with little but desert and monsters around him at most times. A green-eyed medium brunette, Shane would probably be quite beautiful when she grew up - but thankfully, that "growing up" would take some time. However, the Gray family consisted of four. Hugging the little girl, the hunter looked around for her brother, Dark.
Who was standing in the shadows by the door to the kitchen, observing. The name might seem a bit odd, but no one who met the boy doubted that it was the most fitting one for him. At seven years of age, Dark seemed mature enough for someone two times that, and bore the rare markings of a tech-user. Neither the hunter nor his wife knew where that potential came from, as they themselves had only been able to learn the most rudimentary techniques. While they had never doubted that Shane would take up the blade and become a hunter, Dark was a mystery even to his parents.
"Dark? Come and say bye to your old man."
The dark grey-haired child, his face serious, stepped forwards and shook his father's hand in a farewell between equals; as one hunter to another, not as a son to his father. The father found himself smiling at this; the son, however, did not smile.
"Be careful," he said. "I don't like this. Something's going to happen; I can feel it."
"No, it won't," the retired hunter reassured his son and his wife at the same time. And maybe himself, too. "I won't be gone long. Three days at the very most. And the road is quite safe, you all know that."
"Be careful," the child insisted. The man felt uncertain now, but repeated his meaningless words. First Ashara, who was a hunter like him, every bit as skilled and certainly not one to cry, wept and cautioned him, and now Dark... And although the boy was still quite young, neither Ashara nor her husband doubted that his senses surpassed those of most adults when it came to sensing and understanding certain things. With the proper training, Dark would probably be a good technique-user, but even without that training, he was sensitive.
"No, nothing will happen. It's just at trip into town. I can take care of myself, you all know that."
"Yes, I do know," Ashara said, smiling and fingering a slight scar over her left cheek. The first time they met, he had given her that scar and several others in a fight sprung from misunderstanding. He hadn't escaped untouched by her blades, though, and had several scars of his own to remember the duel by.
Letting go of Shane, the hunter rose to his feet, kissed Ashara one last time and headed out. The ones remaining behind watched him go, Ashara's eyes wandering back and forth between her husband and their son. As she looked into Dark's eyes, she could clearly see feelings mirroring her own. Mother and child both sensed something coming, but neither could fathom what.
Rouck the hunter did not understand the worries as he rode towards Aiedo. The camelhorse was fast, its steps even, and he could easily concentrate on more urgent matters as he rode. Such as his family, for instance. If it had been Dark alone, he would have put it down to a child being nervous at having his dad go away (or this he told himself; he wasn't sure if Dark was a child after all, no matter his age) even if it was just for a short while. Had it been Ashara, he would have called it... something else. But, being sure that Dark would not voice his worries and equally sure that Ashara would not want to upset the children by telling them of her worries, he knew that they couldn't have influenced each other. So what, what was causing this feeling?
Still worried, he arrived at Aiedo at dusk. A camelhorse could run for four days without rest, but would be very exhausted at the end of the fourth day. One day of running, however, was nothing to it. The mount had large pads for feet, two humps on its back for storing water, and a very long face. It looked quite ridiculous, but it was useful - docile, strong, easy to keep, and it didn't eat expensive food. An all-eater, the camelhorse took care of most of its own needs.
Leaving the animal in the care of a stable hand, the hunter made his way to an inn where he intended to stay overnight. The owner of the place knew Rouck from the old days, when he was just yet another hunter looking for some suitable job, and gave him a good room for half the normal price. After thanking his old friend, Rouck collected his key and went to find his room, where he washed the dust and sweat from his body. Wanting to return home as soon as possibly, he went to bed so he could be up early next morning. In a few minutes, Rouck was asleep.
He was wakened in the middle of the night, quite rested, by the sound of something hitting the floor. Instantly wide-awake, Rouck grabbed his sword, which he had placed on the table by the bed - old habits died hard - and sat up. There was nothing to be seen, but that didn't guarantee that the room was empty. Rising slowly, Rouck got out of his bed and cautiously moved closer to the window. He pushed the curtain aside with his sword, and -
Stared into the face of a man he had believed to be a part of a distant past.
"Rouck. What a pleasant surprise." The intruder, ignoring the weapon pointed at his chest, strode from his hiding place and sat down in a chair. "It has been a long time since... we last met."
"It is so, yes," Rouck agreed, but did not lower his sword. "What do you want with me... Adder?"
"Tsk! That name is long since used up. You still remember my real name, don't you... 'Edge'?" the stranger smirked.
"Indeed I do, Ramare," the hunter confirmed, "but you still haven't answered my question."
"I thought you might have figured it out by yourself," Ramare said, smiling.
Yes I have, Rouck thought, not one single movement betraying his thoughts, and I do not like it one bit. Why couldn't you have stayed dead and buried?
"Why did you come all the way here?" he said. "I have retired from the hunting."
"Ah, but you can still hold a weapon," 'Adder' observed. "Join me outside - I've come a long way, and I want this done with before sunrise."
What choice was there? Rouck nodded. Ramare's smile broadened as he rose and climbed out through the open window. Dressing himself quickly, Rouck soon followed the other man.
The field was ideal. There was sand and grass alike, each substance binding the other to make the ground secure. For a place of death, it was also strangely beautiful, at least to the trained eye of a desert ranger.
"Do you find it satisfactory?" asked Ramare.
"It will suffice," Rouck replied. "Why? Why push it to this, after all those years?"
"Because, I always keep my promises. And because I want to know, once and for all, who is the best.
You! I will make you pay! For what it has ever been worth, I swear it by the tears of Light! a voice shouted in the back of Rouck's head, another memory he had thought belonged to the past. Now it surfaced, still as painful as it had been back then, when two close friends became enemies. The hunter sighed, kicked off his boots and drew his sword. Holding it two-handed, he used no shield or second weapon, while Ramare wielded two slim-bladed, but long, swords. He now drew them and held the weapons over his head in a ritual challenge, and Rouck responded in kind. For a single second the men stood still. Then they were moving, as if they had always been, and the dance of death began.
Dark woke up with a start, his eyes - like his hair, they were dark grey, as his name implied - scanning the room for threats. Of course, there were none. But he knew there was mortal danger - only not to whom. Sighing, the young man dismissed it all as a nightmare, rolled over and soon fell asleep again, unaware of the source of his 'dream'.
"Aah! Very well, Edge, first blood is to you," Adder growled. Rouck, standing a few meters away and holding a bloodstained sword, did not reply. The wound in his opponent's arm was not severe, but would limit Ramare's use of his left-hand weapon.
Seemingly not feeling any pain, the Adder advanced on Rouck again. The blades crossed, then crossed again. The fight could go on for hours, for they were evenly matched - to the point where duelling was useless, since nothing but luck would determine the winner. It was just as well, the hunter realised. Maybe they would tire each other out and then go their separate ways.
But he knew; it wasn't going to be that easy.
It wasn't going to be that easy. The hilt in his hands was slippery with blood and sweat, and Rouck's muscles ached. He had been quite severely wounded, but then, so had Ramare. Panting, the other man was leaning on his single remaining sword, which he now used as a two-handed weapon; the other blade had broken close to the hilt, and lay on the ground.
"Are ... you ... willing to ... call it a ... draw?" Rouck asked grimly. "I am ... prepared if ... you are."
"Never! I ... will se it ... end. Tonight ... is as good ... as any other night."
Rouck sighed and advanced, his sword held high. He was tempted to use Res to lessen the pain from his wounds, but this was a duel - and technique-using was not allowed during duels unless it had been agreed upon before the fight.
A second later, the weapons clashed together again.
The end came quickly. Rouck's sword fell from his suddenly numb fingers, and he stared down at the dagger buried in his chest. Ramare, when realising that the battle was too even, had drawn the weapon after a question to his enemy; after all, he was an honourable man. The other hunter had, most foolishly, accepted Ramare's drawing a second weapon, and now it had found its mark.
"Fear not for your family," Ramare comforted the man who had once been his friend. "They were never my target."
"Then - y-you have - made your point. A ... dagger's point," Rouck gasped. He knew he was dying, but he still had time to say what had to be said. "Tell - tell - my - wife what - happened!"
"I will make sure they know." There was something almost sounding like regret in Ramare's voice. "Trust me."
"But it was damn - clo - ssse ... wasn't i-"
Rouck had no time to finish that last sentence. Strangely, his last thoughts were, If I had not retired, I would never have lived to an age of forty and three...
Ramare knelt beside him, straightening the hunter's limbs so that he was lying flat on his back, then carefully removed the dagger and laid it on the fallen man's chest. Draping his cloak over the body, he rose and headed back towards Aiedo. Halfway there, he finally remembered healing. He uncorked a small glass tube filled with a bluish purple liquid, tipped the contents into his mouth and swallowed it. The faintly bitter taste soon faded away, and he felt the healing potion start its work.
Silently climbing in through the window he used earlier, Ramare took a pen and paper from the hunter's pack. Staring at the empty page for a moment, he started writing. Five minutes later, he had sealed the letter and put it on the bed, where surely someone would notice it, then left the building.
At dusk one day after Rouck's death, Iryn the innkeeper arrived at the farm of the Gray family. The letter, addressed to 'Gray Family, to be delivered at earliest opportunity', had no signature, no mark in the black wax seal. But since an old friend had disappeared and left nothing but this note to explain his disappearance, Iryn knew it was important.
Dark opened the door when Iryn knocked. The boy stared at the stranger, and the innkeeper, feeling slightly discomforted by his penetrating gaze, had to repeat his question, "Is your mother in?" twice before Dark responded.
"She is." He turned and walked away. Hesitating for a second, Iryn followed him.
They found Ashara in her own room, reading a book, while Shane was sitting on the floor playing with a sandworm doll. At the moment, the doll seemed to take some beating from a wooden figure carrying a sword and bearing a quite close resemblance to the girl's father. As Dark entered, Ashara looked up from her book.
"Yes, Dark - what? Who are you?"
"My name is Iryn, Mrs Gray, the innkeeper of Aiedo. I am a friend of Rouck's, and I have a letter to you, which seems to be from him." He handed her the folded and sealed letter.
"Oh! Thank you, Iryn." She broke the seal and started reading.
Dark had known, since the moment he saw Iryn at the door, what the letter said; not the text in itself, but the meaning of its contents. Had he not known, then his mother's eyes would have told him all he needed to know. Though little changed, there was a look in her eyes that he could never describe, but that seemed to hold infinite sorrow.
"He is dead," Dark said, "is he not?"
His voice never wavered.
Iryn left without much conversation. Ashara managed not to cry while the man was with them, but could not hold her tears back after he left. Shane, too young to understand that 'dead' meant Rouck would never, ever, be home again, cried as well, just because Ashara did. Dark did not. Dark never cried. But, as his sister started asking when her daddy would be home, he almost considered it - or at least considered losing his temper. Unknowingly, she was making things worse, as Ashara, too honest to tell a reassuring lie, had to explain again and again that he never would be back. But all Dark could think of was revenge, and the only thing that frustrated him more than the fact that he could do absolutely nothing about the death of his father, was the fact that he had no way to extract that revenge. If at least he could have done that! But he had no fighting skill and knew no techniques; it wouldn't have done him much good having them, either, for even if he had known how to fight, he still did not have any weapons.
However, while he might not have the talent for swordplay that Shane seemed to have, waving sticks around all the time, playing at being a warrior and so forth, he had a mind that was incredibly strong. That insight was not a young boy's confidence in his own abilities, but true knowledge of his strengths and weaknesses. It was knowledge of a kind that few ever achieved, but that Dark seemed to have bee born with - and in fact, was the only thing that set him apart from most other children; the only thing that made him seem so mature for his age. Dark, aware that his father had a small shelf of books about techniques - though he did not know why; perhaps Rouck secretly hoped to some day master more powerful techniques -, removed most of the books from that shelf, and, silently pledging to one day develop the strength he needed, shut himself in his room to study them. As the days passed, Shane and Ashara saw him less often than ever, and it got worse.
Within days, Dark had mastered the elementary Foi fire technique and moved on to Zan, the technique that controlled the wind.
As Dark grew older, he realised that reading about technique-casting alone was not enough. He could learn little from the books. What he needed was a teacher, one well versed in the art of techniques as well as that of physical fighting. Since Ashara - albeit not a very proficient tech-user - was already giving Shane fencing lessons, Dark was confident that she would teach him as well.
And she did.
The plans were never forgotten, but postponed time after time. The pain and anger never left. Both Dark and Shane were obsessed with thoughts of vengeance, and Ashara did nothing to quell those thoughts. If she had, things might have turned out differently, but they would never have away to know that.
When finally, after five years of practice, Dark and Shane thought themselves ready to seek out the killer, Ashara refused to let them leave. "You are good, both of you," she said, "but your father was one of the best warriors I ever crossed swords with, if not, perhaps, the best. The one you are after will be as strong. And even together, you are not ready for that - you are not up to the challenge. Not yet, child. Not yet."
After hearing the answer four times, Dark stopped asking. Shane, however, did not. For several years, Dark heard the exchange at least once every month. And as time passed, the Grays grew older, and stronger - and better.
Twelve years after the time of their father's death, Shane was given her first true weapon - a longsword, her weapon of choice. Dark, though as strong, disliked the heavy swords his sister used, but still had not chosen a weapon in which he would specialise. Offered a shortsword, he made no comments, but strapped the weapon to his belt, accepting it. They were now armed, but still, they were not deemed ready.
As it turned out, the choice was not made by, but for them. Only a single month after Shane's seventeenth birthday, Ashara died, fatally stung by a poisonous desert snake, and Dark was forced to watch her life-force drain out of her as his healing techniques, meant only to close wounds and knit broken bones, failed to cleanse the poison from her body.
Now on their own, without a teacher, the Gray siblings had little choice but to undertake the journey they both had longed and feared for. Locking every door and window in their house, they set of for Aiedo, where the Hunters' Guild was located. If there was any place the information they needed could be found, that was it.
"Sooo, you're looking for Ramare - the Adder?" a burly hunter asked. "And may I ask what you want from that man? And warn you that whatever it is, he won't give it to you?"
"I intend to kill him," Shane stated bluntly. There was silence, then laughter.
"You haven't even grown into a woman yet, but you already have guts for ten of'em!" another hunter bellowed. "Go back to your dolls and stuff, kid. Yer'e too young to die."
"Even if he won't kill you outright, seeing that you're a child and all, he'll at least bet you senseless and leave you in the desert, for the 'worms and vultures to finish you off," another man filled in with a lot less humour and a lot more friendliness. "You are too young to die! Go home again, girl. Not one of us would take on the Adder. He is the best there is - he's never been defeated!"
"That won't last long!" Shane spat. "Where can I find him?"
"We won't tell you," the friendly man said calmly. "Despite all the things said about hunters, we do not get children killed. And that one young girl like you could even give the Adder a scratch in combat... it just isn't possible. Go home," he repeated.
"She is not alone," Dark hissed, materialising by the table. Like Shane, the young man seemed every bit a skilled warrior, and the cold fury in his voice even made the hunters around the table flinch. Unlike his sister, he wore a cloak with its hood pulled up, hiding his face in shadow.
His appearance and voice, however, were not enough to hide his age, or persuade the hunters to give Dark the information he wanted.
"We won't change our minds, youngsters," the older hunter informed. "We do not give that kind of information to children."
Dark, his face shadowed by the hood of his cloak, smiled an invisible and mirthless smile.
"I was not a child thirteen years ago, when Ramare earned my hatred," he said, "and I am not a child today. You will tell me."
"The choice is yours. Be warned, though, that that decision will make me angry."
"Sorry, but it's still 'no'. And do not attempt anything foolish, boy. We are, after all, five armed and experienced warriors, and you are, after all, children." The man's friendliness did not extend as far as taking threats.
"Your choice, as I said," hissed Dark. He pointed to the centre of the round table around which the five were seated - only by a struggle for control over his anger could he refrain from aiming for the hunter himself - and snapped, "Gifoi!"
Spheres of fire flowed from his hand. The table exploded, showering everyone but Dark in glowing embers and splintered wood. The tech-user turned his back on the five, who were now swearing and frantically swatting at their clothes and hair to put out the embers. One of them recovered swiftly, and silently pulled a knife and flung himself at Dark - who somehow sensed the attack coming and calmly turned, and waited until the man was an arm's length away. He ducked the knife thrust, blocked the man's arm with his left hand and put his right elbow up, stepping towards the man; one of his first combat moves, taught to him by his father. The hunter, unable to stop in time, was hit square in the throat, and fell - not dead or mortally wounded, but in pain, breathing noisily and with great difficulty. Dark knew he would recover shortly, and did not look at the man as he addressed the remaining four:
"Does anyone else want a... closer demonstration of my abilities?"
"No one in here would be that stupid," a dry voice behind him answered. Dark slowly turned to face the speaker.
"Who are you?" he asked the old man facing him.
"Durin. I can take you to Ramare."
"How? And why do you accept now, and not earlier?" Dark challenged.
"I will lead you to his keep. And I offer assistance now because you have showed determination, and ability. You may have a chance. Although it's a slim one," he added, grimacing. "But there is more... I once knew Rouck, and I know that move was one of his. Dark Gray, I will be more than happy to help avenge his death."
The keep of the Adder was located two weeks' journey from Aiedo, in the middle of nowhere. Durin's knowledge of the deserts helped them avoid most of the roaming beasts, and the few they encountered were easily dispatched. They reached the keep in a condition neither much better nor much worse than that in which they had started out.
A small castle, the keep was three floors high, with a tower extending about two more levels, and made from black stone. It looked somehow sinister.
"This is as far as I will go," Durin informed as the keep appeared behind a dune. "I wish to end my days in a calm place, old and toothless, not in the desert with a blade in my gut. Nevertheless, I will tell you this much: he probably lives in the tower. You will find him there, if I am not mistaken. Beware of traps in there, too... I'll wager there are a few."
"You have been of a great help," Shane said thankfully. "I hope your journey back will be peaceful."
"So do I," Dark said, shaking Durin's hand. "Farewell, old man."
"So to you, young ones," Durin muttered. Looking towards the keep, he added under his breath: "That it will be."
They parted company, and the Grays headed for the keep, while their guide started to walk the other way. Soon, he was out of sight.
The front door was, most surprisingly, unlocked, untrapped and unguarded, as if Adder wasn't expecting anyone to be so insolent as to invade his home. Nevertheless, or maybe because of this, the Grays were cautious as they entered.
The keep seemed empty, and their explorations were uninterrupted. They found their way to the second floor without problems, and started to explore. But there the trouble started; or rather, exactly there - at a stone slab that looked exactly the same as all the others, but, unlike any other stone he had stepped on in the keep, moved as Dark put his foot on it. He flung himself back as a barbed spear shot from a hidden hole in the ceiling, then retracted to wherever it came from. After that incident, they were very careful about where they put their feet, but nevertheless managed to activate one more trap before they reached the third floor. Shane stepped on another trigger hidden in the floor, and a second spear came flying. She pushed her brother out of the way and ducked, and the weapon clattered uselessly against the wall, then the floor, the spearhead bent and blunted by the impact. Dark retrieved the weapon, and they continued. They soon climbed to the last level of the keep.
It turned out the building was not completely empty, after all. There were guardians - three of them, humanoid, but scaled, garbed in loose-fitting green robes like those worn by the native Motavians, and armed with spears. The Adder obviously liked that weapon.
Charging the intruders, the monsters acted like trained warriors, but they seemed unused to any kind of real resistance. Being charged back by Shane and Dark, they behaved like novice tavern-brawlers. The fight was short, and with one single wound sustained by the Grays - a shallow gash in Shane's forearm - and the damage was soon healed by Dark's Res technique. Now treading very carefully, they stepped over the reptile-men's bodies and continued onwards.
The tower was as unguarded as most of the keep. A single iron door, locked from the inside, blocked the way into the topmost chamber. Summoning all his anger, Dark cast Gifoi to destroy the lock, almost melting the metal. He kicked the door open, sending parts of the half-liquefied metal flying. And at long last, they faced Ramare.
The killer did not seem surprised; he rather seemed to have been expecting them. He was armed and armoured, carrying double longswords and wearing a chestplate made from hardened sandwormskin leather. His clothes, though expensive-looking, were designed not to get in the way when the wearer was moving and fighting. Despite his age, Ramare was a handsome man, the only real sign of age being some grey streaks in his otherwise dark hair, and his appearance was that of a skilled warrior; he would be their greatest challenge, and, maybe, the Grays thought as they saw him, one that would prove too difficult for them to handle.
"The Gray children." His voice sounded like his appearance; calm, cool, deadly. "I have been expecting your unfortunate arrival. I knew you would seek me out, sooner or later... regrettably. You can never understand the cause for the duel that ended in your father's death, nor can you ever feel the same sorrow that I feel over his passing. Saying this will not change your feelings towards me, calm the hatred that you've harboured for so long... I know as much. There will be no shame if you leave now, but being your father's children, I doubt that you will. I am prepared to fight."
"And as prepared, I hope, for your death," Shane snarled, baring her sword. Dark gripped his stolen spear like a quarterstaff.
"Hardly mine, but a death nevertheless... two deaths, actually."
And, wasting no more time, the Adder attacked, as silently and as quickly as the strike of his namesake.
The Grays immediately realised that their mother had been right: alone, they were not up to the challenge. Their only hope was co-operation, and co-operate they would. Speaking was not needed - they both knew what to do. While Shane attacked head-on, Dark moved to strike at Ramare's side, but the Adder was not fooled by the double-pronged attack, dancing away from both spear and sword, his own weapons flashing towards Shane. She blocked the right-hand blade, but the left hit her, drawing a thin, bleeding line across her chest. Fortunately, she was dextrous enough to avoid being gutted by the low stroke, but she had been wounded nevertheless, and the ease with which Ramare had caused the wound spoke greatly of his talent. Dark's staff/spear was slower than the sword, not being made for close combat, but its wielder could deflect the blows raining down upon him without much difficulty or any major wounds, due to the weapon's size.
The fight raged around the entire room, which was starting to look like a battle-zone as the combatants kicked chairs out of the way, stumbled against tables or shelves, or grabbed books to throw at their opponents. For five minutes, the Grays held out; then Shane, wielding a heavier weapon, lost hold of her sword during a complicated parrying move. The Adder seized the opportunity, and Shane went down, severely wounded by a thrust through her stomach; a thrust that just barely missed any vital organs. Dark was alone now, and he still had no time to cast any techniques.
He managed to hold his own for another minute or so, then his staff shattered from a heavy blow. Staring at Ramare, Dark raised his hands to try techniques, even knowing that he would not be able to do so in time. But the Adder threw the sword in his right hand, slightly wider and longer than the weapon in his left, to Dark, saying, "I won't kill an unarmed man in single combat. Pick it up!"
Dark hesitated. The sword clattered on the floor. Ramare growled. "It is your daddy's sword," he said mockingly. Dark's eyes widened. Then he bent to pick the sword up, expecting to feel the Adder's blade at any moment. However, the expected pain never came. As he sensed that the Adder would not attack until he was ready, Dark knelt, putting a hand to Shane's forehead. She had passed out, but he sensed that he was not too late; she was not that close to death - enough life-force remained to be restored by normal means.
Sparkling pale fire glowed around his hands flowing into Shane. Her wounds were not yet fully healed, but Dark knew that his sister was not in mortal danger anymore; at least, he thought grimly, not from her wounds. Standing up, he bowed, unwillingly feeling respect towards his enemy.
The Adder smiled back, then attacked.
To his surprise, Dark found them evenly matched. Using only one sword, Ramare wasn't so good after all, and Dark was young; the other man was not quite as strong or as fast anymore - which was understandable; he must be approaching sixty years of age, assuming he was about Rouck's age. At one moment, Dark was pushing Ramare backwards, but in the next, the Adder had the upper hand. And suddenly, Dark realised that nothing but luck would determine the winner. Unless something was done.
At the same time, Ramare seemed to reach the same conclusion, and drew a dagger from his belt.
Dark knew himself chance-less against the Adder's two-hand fighting style, and desperately tried to figure something out as he backed and parried and ducked to avoid his enemy's attacks.
Desperation breeds solutions. Dark had heard his father say that sentence many times. But he did not remember it now; he only found the effects of despair. Knowing that he would soon be unable to even defend himself, calling upon all his strength, mental and physical, he drew his sword back for one, final swing that would either take Ramare out, or be Dark's last move.
There was a flash of cobalt light, and blue fire flared, outlining the contours of the weapon.
Blackness filled everything inside the fiery corona.
Dark swung the weapon with all his might.
Ramare's two thinner blades, one long and one short, moved, lightning-fast, to block Dark's attack.
The Gray's sword cut cleanly through the steel of both weapons, trailing blue sparks behind it, then through Ramare's armour, shoulder, collarbone, ribs and spine, cleaving the man in two. The blade continued its movement, and was out on the other side before the wound even started to bleed.
Instantly killed, Ramare, unlike Dark's father, had no time for any last words.
He healed Shane, using his last mental energy to fully close the wound. Leaning on each other, the Grays left the castle the same way they got in, careful not to trigger any more traps, using their swords for walking sticks to steady themselves. Five minutes later, the castle was behind them, and they collapsed. After the battle with Ramare, the sand dune was extremely comfortable, and they soon fell asleep, mindless of the dangers that might lurk in the desert.
For some reason, Dark's last conscious thoughts were of the power that he had called upon to defeat Ramare:
What should I call it?
The answer seemed obvious.
Oh. Of course... Darkblade.
When they awakened next morning, Dark's thoughts had cleared considerably, and Shane's wound was as good as gone. Satisfied that their respective physical conditions were good enough to travel, Shane and Dark turned their backs on the Adder's tower and headed off - home.
Four weeks after the incident at the Hunters' Guild, two travellers stepped through the door. One was a rather beautiful brown-haired and green-eyed girl, who was carrying a sword that seemed a bit too long for her, but which she wore by her side as if it was a part of her. The other one was a man, wearing a dust-coloured cloak with its hood pulled up, hiding his face, and a sword in a roughly cut shoulder harness hanging on his back, over the cloak. The man seemed less at home with the long sword than did the woman, but did not seem to mind the shortsword dangling from his belt. As they entered the small guildhouse, he drew a dagger from his belt and threw it at the wooden floor, where it stood quivering from the force put behind that throw.
"Ramare, also known as the Adder, is dead, slain by my hand!" the grey-cloaked man stated in a loud voice, that no one in the house could fail to hear. "Those of you who doubt it, please have a look at this weapon." He pointed to the dagger he had thrown. "That will spare them much trouble later, for if I hear anyone doubt my word..." There was silence. The man did not offer any 'then' to complete the 'if', but turned his back on the room. The woman did so as well, and a gale-forced wind rose, gathering sand and dust into a pillar of greyness concealing the two strangers. After a couple of seconds, when the wind calmed, they were gone.
If someone had looked at the dagger, he would have seen a serpent etched in the steel, its fangs bared and ready to strike. But, for some reason, no one openly doubted the man's word.
Walking down the street, Dark considered his use of techniques with some distaste. What good were they, really, except for impressing on hunters? Maybe he wasn't meant to use them; the death of his mother certainly seemed proof of that.
Well. He wouldn't, then. Smiling faintly, he took his sister's hand, and the two remaining Grays slowly started walking towards their house outside Aiedo.