from The Right Weapon
Little pangs of pain pulsed in Mauro’s arm where the Icathian dagger had…where he had cut himself with the bloodthirsty dagger. Though perhaps it was only trying to help him understand. He still wondered what it was whispering…it had seemed so very important. He wondered what he might be leaving behind in that strange place between dimensions to which he had briefly ventured.
The Keeper opened an ebonwood trunk and produced a short sword in a well-worn scabbard. The grip was mostly bare steel, with just enough dessicated matter sunk into the ridges to suggest that it had once been wrapped in leather.
The Keeper held the sheath and turned the handle toward Mauro. He didn’t seem inclined to risk drawing this one himself.
Mauro slid it out of its scabbard. A patina veiled the notched blade. It was an archaic design from the early days of forging: a triangular blade that was wide at the base and steadily narrowed to a thin point. Looking more closely, Mauro could see that the last inch or so had been broken off, and somehow…reattached. From what little he knew of swordmaking, one was not supposed to be able to simply glue a broken sword back together like pottery, but it seemed some smith had done essentially that.
The cut on his arm no longer hurt. And his mind, rather addled by the encounter with the Icathian dagger, began to steady itself. He was feeling quite clear-headed, in fact. Calm. It felt good, or rather, it did not feel bad.
“From the Shadow Isles,” he surmised, rotating his wrist and sweeping the sword through a few guards to test its balance—which he was not surprised to find was exceptional. “Strange; I don’t feel anything sinister or frightening about it.”
The Keeper nodded. He himself was looking a little uneasy. “Yeah, uh, that’s good. Maybe that’s the one for you.”
Mauro inclined his head. He felt he ought to make a grin. It just seemed correct, though he had to do it deliberately, as though operating his own puppet strings. “Are you alright, Keeper? You seem a little frightened.”
The Keeper coughed and shook his head. “No, no, I’m fine. Just a bit under the weather.” He unscrewed his flask and took a long draught, taking visible pains to flex his rather stiff wrist upwards so that he wouldn’t have to tilt his head back. So that, Mauro considered, he wouldn’t have to take his eyes off Mauro.
“How did you come by this weapon?” He asked the Keeper. He slashed the sword up, then snapped his wrist around and cut downward. Like most Summoners, he was far from imposing physically, but somehow the magic of this sword made it feel quite trivial. He told his arm to swing hard, and it did. He didn’t feel any of the usual burn of fatigue or the wheedling soreness of overexerted muscle.
The Keeper’s eyes traveled up and down over Mauro, his brow furrowed. He seemed to be monitoring something that troubled him. His voice had the tone of a physician making smalltalk while measuring the dose in a syringe.
“Oh, that one? Well. My sources are something I keep close to my chest, you know. It’s from the Shadow Isles, yes.”
Mauro brought the sword up and turned its flat to face him. He saw his grinning face dimly reflected in the metal.
Oh. That’s right. He’d forgotten to stop grinning. He paused for a moment, then tugged the metaphorical strings appropriately and saw his reflected face return to a neutral expression.
What else was in that reflection? There were shapes. Faint shapes. With cool curiosity, he tilted the blade this way and that to investigate further. He recognized this might be dangerous, but the possibility did not frighten him in the slightest. It was simply something to consider.
In the reflection, a woman’s face began to appear over his shoulder. Ah. The Demacian. She was angry, which was to be expected. He saw her hands wrapped around his neck, choking him. But he felt nothing. She did not appear to have any power over him.
Nor did it affect his ability to speak. “Interesting. There is little necromancy in the standard League curriculum, and I have not gone beyond it. And yet I seem to have the knack for some level of conj—”
His pleasant numbness, which had pervaded him since he picked up the sword, suddenly turned to searing, burning pain. Something hot. Like molten silver. Running down his face, his arm. He tried to scream, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t breathe. There were fingers around his throat. Crushing his throat. Fingers like spears of bone, pushing deeper into his soft flesh. She was going to take him with her. She was going to choke the life out of him.
His arm spasmed, and he dropped the sword to the floor. And she vanished.
Mauro swept his wings out and buffeted himself back up into the air in panic. He gasped and wheezed. He brushed his face with his hand. His face had felt like it was melting off. But he felt no burns. Only water. Cool, sweet water. He saw the Keeper holding a different flask, one marked with a Demacian holy symbol.
Mauro glared. “Was that REALLY necessary?”
The Keeper watched him critically. He didn’t say anything until Mauro touched his feet back down on the floor, whereupon he picked up the blade with a scrap of null-magic fabric and replaced it within its scabbard. He looked the thing over, and grunted.
“So how’s that air you’re breathing?” He asked, quite conversationally, as he put the sword back into the trunk and locked it in.
Mauro paused. “It’s…fine. Catching my breath after you splashed me with holy water and that ghost started choking me.”
Mauro arched an eyebrow, and wiped some of the holy water off his face. “Something funny?”
What kind of dimwit throws holy water at someone wielding a Shadow Isles blade? This guy’s no Summoner, that’s for sure.
“Yeah,” the Keeper responded. “You stopped breathing the moment you drew the sword. You just didn’t notice it. I was watching. Not a single breath. Just grinning like a skeleton.”
“Nice sword, though, yeah?” The Keeper added.
“If this is all an elaborate attempt to kill me—”
“It’s an elaborate attempt to educate you, Summoner,” the Keeper assured him, smoothly. “You’re new to the League, aren’t you? Well. Your main exposure to powerful magical weapons is through Champions, on the Fields. Sometimes I think you Summoners get a warped idea about these things as a result of only experiencing them through someone as strong-willed as a Champion. And if I’m not getting out of line here, Summoner—”
“Well, traditionally, I would expect the line to be drawn somewhere short of ‘giving a customer magic weapons that either insult him or try to kill him’, myself, but no, go on.”
The Keeper laughed. “Can’t begrudge you that, no. Very fair, Summoner.” He held up both hands and bowed his head in an apologetic gesture of respect. “But maybe it’d do you well to learn to respect the power these things have.” As though to ward off a sharp retort, he hastened to add, “And yeah, don’t worry, I’m taking notes. If you end up walking out of here with one of these weapons, I’ll be surprised. It’d probably mean I should expect to see you on the Fields yourself soon! Ha. But each one of these you pick up tells me a bit more about what kind of weapon might suit you. I want to give you a sword you can keep for the rest of your very long life.”
Mauro glanced at the trunk. “Life. Or…” He smirked.
The Keeper smirked back. “Yeah. Or whatever it may be that lasts for a very long time in your particular case.”
And then he brought Mauro over to a side room. The door opened with a gust of frosty air.