A Tale of FA’s Chapter 14: A King in Check
Victor tightened his grip and bit down slightly on his lower lip as he braced for the creatures attack. How would he counter something he could not touch? How could he defend against a creature of shadow? The image dropped deep into the same stance the king had already assumed and began to move with the same slow gate towards the king that he had used to traverse the room earlier when moving toward the door. As the creature closed the distance, it raised the huge ebon blade high above its featureless face in a manner all too familiar to the good king. Victor poised to parry the strike if such was possible, all the while looking about the room for an answer to his plight. The stroke descended with all the force the dark image could summon. The king brought his sword up at the same moment, shifting his position slightly to avoid a direct strike. As the blades met, Victor turned his blade and shifted his weight to allow the blow to glance down the length of his weapon. Without a pause, he shifted again allowing his blade to travel along the same path force from the blow carried it, building momentum for his return strike. The shadow image dropped, rolling back to pause on its heels to spring forward for a counter strike, in a manner the king of the Aesir himself had employed on many an occasion.
“So, it is true”, Victor thought to himself. “I fight not a mere image but a shade of myself and all my abilities. How can one truly defeat himself? Any strategy I create from my training or experience, this darkling will also know and counter as would I.” The good king paused for a moment and then smiled a small wry smile. “And in that flaw”, He thought again, “I will find my salvation and the opening in this beast’s armor.”
Long and hard had Victor trained throughout the years. He had done so in an effort not to be beholden to any for the preservation of his life. Although he had had to accept the Bloodguard as his sworn protectors as was the duty of an Aesirian High Lord, he would not leave it too his loyal retainers to defend him when he was quite capable himself. To this end, he trained with his guardians daily for hours on end when the duties of a king would allow. He had learned to predict and counter their moves based on the fighting style he was facing. What if he now used that knowledge against a doppelganger as familiar with those styles as he?
For a moment, the two circled each other like wary snow leopards about to pounce, then, Victor paused and raised his sword in a manner Dullblade would use as he squared off. The shadow king paused then adjusted as Victor would have if sparring with Dullblade. The King’s smile widened just a bit. “So, you have all my skills, but mine alone. Though you have knowledge of the others and their methods of attack and defense, you can only employ skills inherent to me.” This small revelation had given Victor an opening he could exploit. It was not a great advantage, but it was an advantage.
Victor launched his assault, using his sheer strength and power to drive the heavy blows down upon his effigy’s weapon again and again and again as Dullblade had done to him. Each time the reaction was the same as he had employed against the real Dullblade. The blows were taken at a glancing angle followed by a low return strike with the first sign of a pause or hesitancy from the attacker. Victor then switched tactics and his blade danced along the air, darting in and out, moving at impossible angles, finishing with an upward slicing motion reminiscent of Still Wadowoman’s signature death strike. The creature’s footwork, poise, and agility unerringly followed with his own practiced calm and confidence. Again, in this act, he saw hope.
The good king too had a finishing movement. A movement which set his opponent on his heels, moving back, followed by a rolling straight thrust. None had ever anticipated or been capable of dodging such a strike as they strove to regain their balance, stance, and defense. If he could somehow set in motion the events leading to that thrust, perhaps he could, in foreseeing its delivery, counter strike and bring this contest to an end.
Perhaps, but all these plans stood on tottering ground. This was all assuming the demon had not already seen through his plan, could in fact be duped into following a predetermined course of action and greatest of all could be harmed by his sword. In truth, the Northern King did not know if indeed he could still the life force that drove this abomination with the weapon at his disposal. It was not much of a plan, but it was a plan and at this time, all that was available to him. With that thought, he began.
Leagues away, the War Counsel was beginning to filter in to the Great Haven of House Harlan. Somber, brooding, and near desperation were the faces of the royal council. All knew a strategy must be formulated to stop the advance of the monster that swept across the land like a wildfire. Dereck the Red lowered his head upon a massive fist and eyed his council with deep concern.
“Members of Council, it is no secret why I have called you before me this day. We face a foe mightier than any we have faced before. Mightier, more ruthless, more cunning, and more deadly than the like of which I had seen in any of my travels before making a home among the fine people I now govern and whose lives I hold so dear. We must formulate a strategy, a plan for defending our great land from those who wish nothing but ruin. I know I can depend on the strength, courage, and loyalty of the people in turning aside the tide of evil which threatens to engulf our great sister nations of Lima and Lama. To this end, I have sent emissaries to all neighboring kingdoms requesting an alliance, an alliance of such magnitude and strength that not even the Demon Lord Perez could imagine its ilk. We shall yet win this day. I will not let all that we have built, struggled for, and achieved fall before such vermin.”
A roar rose from all inside which shook the ancient pillars holding aloft the roofing and golden spires of the Great Haven. Faith had replaced doubt, hope had replaced fear, and courage had replaced the growing fear in the hearts of all. This was their king, their sovereign lord. Ne’er before had he been untrue to his word. Ne’er before had he not made his decrees come to pass if only by sheer force of will and his people knew this. At his command they would rally and fight to the last man if that was what their king pledged would grant them victory.
In his heart, Dereck believed the conviction of his words and their meaning. He knew that if his alliance could be forged and strengthened, his plan would succeed. His only concerns now were; would his message reach the bordering kingdoms in time and more importantly, would the other kings respond favorably to his requests for an alliance.
It was true that the Nine Kingdoms were all at peace with one another but at times it had been a shaky peace and one not easily maintained. Sacrifices had been made and treaties secured and honored but through long deliberation and bureaucracy. There was no such time now for posturing, prattle, or diplomacy. Action had to be taken and quickly lest all be lost. In his kingdom, Dereck had been afforded the right by his people & his High Council to bypass said council in times of extreme emergency but had always called them together to share his thoughts and plans before taking action. The council welcomed this courtesy and appreciated their king’s forthrightness with them even during times that their input was not required. This also inspired trust and belief in his righteousness for the well being of his countrymen. He would need that trust and more if they were to survive the imminent onslaught before them.
Bossman had spent most of the night and the better part of the morning sharing with Butterfly & the Three the events that had led to their meeting and vice versa. Each began to fully understand the scope and magnitude of the situation the entire world now faced. This was not simply a matter of a village or kingdom that must be defended. They faced the total annihilation of their kind. It had now become evident to all that Raul Perez did not simply wish to conquer the land but that he desired the eradication of the entire human species. It was as if he wished to place demon kind above man as the dominant race ruling the Nine Kingdoms and this would not, could not be allowed to happen.
With no other choice open to them and care being required for the wounded beyond Oldman’s maggicks, the choice was made to return to the Aesir. This newly formed fighting force would then seek guidance and wisdom from King Victor before moving on to face the Dread Lord and his demon hordes. This was the path chosen, even as unknowingly to all assembled, the good king fought valiantly for his life.
Even employing his newfound strategy, Victor was barely able to keep his shade at bay. The library had been built in a parapet on the far south wing of the castle adjacent to the king’s quarters. It had been set in seclusion to allow him the sparse bit of privacy so uncommon to a man in his position, yet so valued when a moment did arise where he could whisk himself away for but an instant of solitude. This act in itself might become his undoing. Would he to shout for aid, no one would hear him. If by chance an aid or attendant did, they would be instantly slain by this foul creature’s response to their untimely entrance. He would not have the death of an innocent on his head. With this thought he cleared his head and fought on. As he did, he thought his senses played tricks with him. He felt a breeze where no breeze could be and felt a sudden chill where the warmth of the hearth had once been. Was this another shade come to aid the first or worse yet, had a veil opened to release an even more deadly fiend for him to contend with?
Toward the center of the library, patches of wind-blown snow began to become visible as well as the outline of several shapes. Victor began to press the now distracted reflection harder, driving forceful blows with ever-increasing intensity down on the weapon of the dark image. The shade withdrew from battle abruptly leaping back into the shadows to disappear with a soft purple shimmer. Victor scanned the room warily as the forms took shape in the center of the room.
“Oldman, your timing is as impeccable as ever my friend but be on guard. We are not alone. With that, the Bloodguard, Butterfly, and the Three were at the ready just in time to see their own shadows cast by the glow of that strange torchlight rise up and take form. Each now squared off with their own dark duplicate, ready to strike the original down. Time froze as each tried to ascertain the true nature of the situation they now faced. In unison, the darkness hissed and leapt into battle.
"The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be."