By Lynae Steen
Edited by Alicia Steen
Jyrnn, year of Nilonian Empire 925
The moment washes through my memory as I grip the familiar stone edge and peer at the large mining city this tower overlooks. My whole body still aches from the memory of what happened. It is a moment I will not easily forget.
I do not want to be here, yet I must. There is something about this tower I have not been shown—something that Sir Keisn did not tell me when he tested me two years ago. I need to find out what that is.
The location is wonderful for a scenic view, especially at the current autumn morning twilight. However, a closer look tells me this tower has not been erected solely for that golden red glow. A city named after its region, Lyka lies in the vast hills that make up the valley bowl central to the mountainous range. There is no water except for the one river that runs through the city central area. At the time this tower was erected, Lyka would have been one of the last small towns not completely ravaged by shadow. For some reason still unclear, the northernmost and the easternmost forested mountains have been impassible for centuries, causing even the shadow of the ancient age to enter through the narrow southern pass. This tower, though no one in the pass would suspect, is standing very close to it.
This makes a lot of sense. So why do I feel that something is off?
“There are many dark secrets veiled beneath towers like this one; a select few Nirad know them all.” a voice resonates from inside the long shadow of the tower walls. Glancing to my left, I spot the silhouette of a Nirad, whose snake medallion boasts of gleaming sapphire eyes. I recognize Sir Rydn as he steps into the light wearing the famous grin. His shocking blue eyes steadily pierce me, similar to though not quite reaching the chilling extent Sir Keisn’s sharp black eyes held. I have never actually met Sir Rydn in person; however, his status as Sir Keisn’s apprentice has brought him a sort of fame and infame among my fellow Nirad. Of course, no one actually knows anything about him beyond what they see in the Duals, but one thing is clear to me: he is not like other Nirad.
He continues. “You know Nilo never leaves traces of important facts at an obviously suspicious location like this one.”
I turn back to the scenic view, taking in the cool, fresh morning twilight air.
“I know,” I say. “However, there is still something here that I must find.”
“There are some things even Nilo wishes to remain buried. Finding such will not gain you your better rank.” Sir Rydn informs me. I nod, attempting to quell my anxiety over the subject. That test was the hardest test I have had to put up with, and achieving a rank had been sufficient for me at that time. Now that is not the case. I have managed to rise to the green tourmaline gem—an outstanding rank for one my age; however, that is not enough. I need to achieve something more. I need to solidly obtain it soon or…or….
I honestly have no idea why I must. I just must.
“I have been searching for a long time. It is one reason why I am here in the first place,” I respond honestly. As foreboding my senses are about entering this tower, I know something vital is here. Something more vital than my current understanding.
“Searching, huh?” Sir Rydn seems for reflective than anything else. I gaze at him. He has that somewhat distant, thoughtful look I have seen on his face during the Duels. He fishes something out of his coat and tosses a shiny black metal object my direction. I catch a hilt midair and gaze at a dagger with a single, normal solid green-eyed snake carved on it. This is…!
I almost do not hear Sir Rydn’s next statement. “Take that. My special gift. Who knows? It might aide you in your journey…if you can figure out how to use it, that is.” The tone of his voice combined with the look in his eyes make for a very suspiciously daring expression.
There is more to this guy than I realized.
“And if I do?” I am compelled to ask. A sapphire rank Nirad—Sir Keisn’s own apprentice—could not possess such a thing out of ignorance. Much less to do it so no one—not even Nirad—would suspect. I would not suspect if not for that.
Sir Rydn only smiles. “That we shall have to find out.” Figures.
Is that why he is different? Is that why some Nirad hate him so much without much apparent reason?
“At least give me a challenge,” I smile and tuck the dagger into my sleeve. “I will figure it out all right…perhaps at the Duels tomorrow?” This time Sir Rydn is the one to suspect my daring expression. Why would he not? The Duels are not tournaments or anything related to a game. Depending on how they start, they may or may not be fights to the death. As a result, things happen under the surface in the Duels that few care to think of or speak of. I have seen Sir Rydn fight many duels in the Glade before, but there is nothing like gaining info firsthand.
And why should I not? This forbidden authority has always been a mysterious one. Even Nilo is not willing to share its deepest secrets. I am curious to see as to why. What kind of authority is so terrible it must be kept hidden? Besides, it has been a while since I have fought in one of the Duels.
“Even if you did figure out the secret to that dagger, I am not an opponent so easily bested,” Sir Rydn grins. “Fine. I shall accept your challenge. However, do not think you can get an easy rank this way.”
My smirk lengthens. It has been a while since I have had such a challenge.
Rydn, same evening
He is wearing that same grin. Honestly, I did expect Jyrnn to do this sooner or later; however, to challenge me so soon…is he really so confident in his own abilities? No. Whether it will matter or not, he would not do this unless he had something up his sleeve.
“You are not as straightforward as you appear,” I tell him in front of the gathering crowd. This place is a little outside of Lyka proper, so many people travel by these shadowy grey stone archways outlining the large rectangular stone floor. Though the Glade was built long before the Nirad emerged in Nilonia, every Nirad naturally comes here to fight in the Duels, including us.
Nirad line the ancient archways like glossy black statues. They sure found out pretty quick. I would not doubt that Sir Keisn might have something to do with it.
So far no one has caught on to my act. That persistent Nirad Justyn will be a problem. Recently, he has been a little too observant for my taste. I had better be careful while dealing with Jyrnn. Better yet, I need to do something that will help get Justyn off my back.
“Appreciate the compliment,” he slides out the dagger I gave him and throws my direction. I twist my body to let it fly past me, turning my head so Jyrnn is in my peripheral vision to watch it. The deep green chrome tourmaline signifying his lower rank gleams for a heartbeat before lodging into the tree beside which businessman Taurek is standing. He leaps back, stunned. Something else I cannot read enters his eyes.
I leave behind a shroud of mist as Jyrnn rushes towards me. A green glint precedes the dagger reappearing in Jyrnn’s left hand coming for a slice to what was my right. That green glint…it could not be…?
I backflip, duck and twist several times to dodge a complicated set of combos. This Nirad knows his combat. To further test his skill, I let my mist dissipate at the exact time I unleash my throwing daggers before an overhead attack.
Zing! A concentrated sonic slice knocks the other out of the way while the dagger that administered it blocks one attack from above while Jyrnn dodges another from the side.
Jyrnn has something up his sleeve all right. Something his father Taurek knows about. I have not unleashed all of my skill yet, in this fight or any other fight, but until I get a glimpse of what his intentions are this duel will not be over.
So my father finally noticed. I told him he would find something interesting here. Unfortunately, he is not the only one. Sir Rydn stands in a relaxed ready position, eyeing me suspiciously. Most likely, he has not been trying to hit me more than he has been testing my skill. I raise my hand to my shoulder, readying one of my special attacks. Neither of us have gotten serious as of yet; however, that is bound to change as one or both of us gleans more information.
I spot my father leaving premises. He must be out to inform the others about my little message. It might take a while to gather them all.
This could be a long evening.
I am the first one to speak. “Rumor has it you make your own weapons. Is that true?” Sir Rydn vanishes into the long shadows of the archways, making a sound to my left. I whirl around and step toward the spot he vanished, figuring he would not be there. I am careful to maintain my ready position. Patience is key with this special move.
“So what if I do?” Sir Rydn’s voice precedes several piercing zings that somehow knock me backward. I regain my footing in time to dodge more sliced that seem to be coming from all around. In one swift move, I unleash my special combo. I wind up for a different move as I turn away from the sound of Sir Rydn’s voice.
“Should I answer that?” I ask. “Concealing an important secret is part of being a Nirad after all.” Silence. There! I aim my whirlwind strikes just to the right. Though I do not clearly see how, Sir Rydn stops my movement.
“If you know concealing is part of our job, then you know what else is a part of our job as well,” he talks in a normal voice, but I can tell he is trying to keep his voice out of other ears. The underlying message is clear. It is our duty to report and destroy things of a certain nature, yet both of us choose to ignore that duty in specific areas for personal reasons. Further conversation would prove to be dangerous.
I backflip and twist out of the range of Sir Rydn’s iron rods. He suddenly he is faster and tougher. While keeping away from Sir Rydn’s attacks, I scan the crowd for my father. He is has not come back. I cannot let this Duel end until I have his response. Fine. It will not.