Clint Robert Murphy

A LIFE JOURNEY

“Well boy, c’mon, we’d best get these beasties put away so we can get on with our day.”

Shymon looked over his shoulder at Caiden, leading his massive warhorse, Cathal, toward the barn that housed the livestock.

Once all three horses had been led into their stalls and the bag of feed had been attached to their muzzles, Caiden, Akira, and Shymon began to rub the well-muscled animals down with fresh straw, massaging the sheen of sweat from their hides with care.

“Have I ever told you about the Battle of the Golden General?”  Both Shymon, Akira, and Caiden knew that he had told this story many times before but as always, the children shook their heads, it was a favorite of theirs.

“Hmmmm…now where do I start? Maybe, yes, at the Academy…”

***

Twelve-year old Shymon raised his eyes to the 1001 stairs spiraling steeply up the mountainside to the summit upon which the Academy had been built, the place he had been training his whole life to attend. Even as one section of his mind wondered at the sheer majesty and elemental control needed to create the architectural wonder of the risers, he took a step, then another, a different compartment of his brain urging him to circumspectly steal glances at the other new trainees surrounding him. He’d always been a good judge of character and right now he had his eye on the boy he was sure would be his greatest competition for first student in their year.

The boy really wasn’t much to look at. His long golden blonde hair sliding loose from his clumsily tied topknot, his traditional robes carefully mended but clearly worn, and his wooden training sword slung haphazardly across his left hip. Still, there was something in the way he moved, like a tiger stalking prey, his muscles moving fluidly, his feet dancing lightly along the stone stairs. Yes, this kid had training, how much was yet to be determined.

Shymon allowed his eyes to wander confidently around the rest of the first-year students, carefully plodding their way up the precarious stone steps. He had no reason to worry, there would be very little challenge here. A pair of twinkling dark brown eyes caught his gaze, startling him. Just slightly ahead of him stood the smallest girl he had ever seen, her tumble of soft black hair cascading down her back as she eyed him with a confidence that more than equaled his own. Dazed, he almost missed a step and stumbled badly before catching himself and continuing with the climb.

None too soon they reached the great yard of the main compound, a place they would quickly become familiar with. The place where they would train in swordsmanship, riding, archery, elemental control, and mind magic. All the trainees dropped their packs, clasped their hands behind their backs, and turned their eyes to the dais in the middle of the courtyard where Headmaster Eagna commanded their attention.

“Welcome. Today you enter this Academy as children, those of you who succeed will leave as men and women, protectors of the First Lord and all his lands. The training will be like nothing you have ever experienced, you will feel pain, suffer loss, be broken. You will learn, and you will grow. If you cannot, you will leave, never to return. Your success is in your own hands. I wish you luck.”

Well that wasn’t very encouraging, Shymon thought as he found himself following the third-year student whose duty was to lead the new students to their barracks. The rooms, like everything else in the Academy, were cold and bare. Four futons marked the sleeping area for the boys, a single simple chest of wood at the head of each mat was the sole place for storing personal belongings. Each room they passed was identical to the one before it, spartan rooms designed solely for sleep and reflection. They had left all creature comforts behind when they were accepted and taken from their homes.

When they reached the room, last on the right, Shymon found himself looking down into the upturned faces of the three boys he would be sharing this room with for the next year. Two he dismissed out of hand, but the third, by some strange coincidence, was the boy he had been watching for the past hour’s climb.

“I’m Certas,” the golden-haired youth said, reaching out his hand to the big red headed boy, “I’m from the lands of the wood lord, you are?”

Shymon took his time answering, he had two choices he decided. He could take the hand that was proffered to him, or he could test this boy’s mettle. Not one to take the simple route, Shymon quickly grasped Certas’s wrist and pivoted his hip into the smaller boy’s stomach, heaving him backwards over his shoulder, laughing at the prospect of a quick scrap. Spinning, he turned, prepared to follow through with a dropped elbow onto the boy’s exposed chest. Certas wasn’t there. Somehow, he had used the momentum from the roll to land on his feet, quickly turning himself and sweeping the Shymon’s feet out from under him.

Before he could wrap his mind around what had happened, Shymon was looking up, the wooden sword Certas carried digging meaningfully into the underside of his chin.

Grinning widely, Shymon reached up his hand. He had rarely ever been bested, let alone by a boy almost half his size, but he was never one to hold a grudge.

From that day forward where one saw Certas, they saw Shymon. Such a strange combination. The slight, fair boy with the serious blue eyes, and the big, bluff, red-headed one who never seemed serious at all. As Shymon had predicted on the first day, they competed for the honor of first student in everything.

Shymon, for all his laughing ways, soon showed himself to be gifted in academics. His knowledge of strategy and warfare quickly outstripping those of his peers with the exception of Certas, who seemed to have been born with a natural intuition when it came to tactics and leadership. Certas, well-muscled and quick, soon demonstrated that he was the force to beat in martial arts training. Both were well matched in swordsmanship, deftly moving from Rattlesnake Strikes into Crane Parts the Reeds, their swords flashing and dancing as they defended then attacked opponent after opponent.

They weren’t the only ones who competed for top honors, however. It soon became apparent that the tiny girl he had noticed on that long arduous climb, Irial, was gifted in healing. She easily led the class and her twin sister, Brianne, could not be matched in archery. One day bled quickly into the next, marked by the daily strenuous physical training and the equally rigorous mental and academic exercises devised by their instructors.

Halfway through their first year, Shymon came around the corner to discover his friend in serious trouble. Certas stood in the center of the hallway, surrounded by his brother, Fintan, and three other second year students. Fintan was constantly challenging Certas, pushing him to work harder, to bring honor to their family name by following in his footsteps and becoming first student. He was not likely to show Certas any mercy. Certas’s only hope was that this would be a fight consisting solely of fisticuffs and swordplay, both sides bound from the use of their elements by the cuff and collar which would not be permanently removed until fourth year.

All four second years had their blunted training swords out, and while it was unlikely that Certas would die from this skirmish, it was almost certain that he would emerge badly bruised and beaten.

Three more second years grabbed Shymon from behind, pushing him up against the wall where all he could do was watch his friend and struggle to come to his aid.

Fintan and his friends began to circle Certas, mocking him, poking at him, feinting and drawing his eyes in all directions. One sword dipped in to crack against his shoulder blade, another whipped across his knee. Certas stood stoic, his wooden blade upraised, looking for an opening.

Lightning quick, he moved forward, the Leopard Strikes Prey. His foot thrusting down to take one of the boys in the knee, the joint cracking painfully. His hand reaching deftly to twist the boy’s wrist, forcing him to loosen his grip on his sword. Certas’s blade slamming into the boy’s temple causing him to crash limply to the ground. Just like that, Certas held not one sword but two.

He became a blur of motion, swords spinning in the air faster than his opponents could follow. One hand parrying the now serious strokes of the remaining three foes, the other deftly dealing blows wherever an opening arose. With his left sword he slammed down the arm of another of Fintan’s conspirators, his right delivering a mighty backhanded blow that sent teeth and blood flying through the air.

Just then one of the instructors turned a corner. Certas, Shymon, and the remaining boys found themselves locked in a cage of iron-tight air.

It would not be the first time the two friends found themselves in such serious trouble, nor would it be the last. Year after year they marked themselves as two of the best the Academy had.

When Fintan was lost in a sortie over the wall in his fourth year, Shymon listened to Certas and felt his recriminations over his failure to make the relationship between himself and his brother work. When an instructor in third year took a dislike to Shymon and forced punishment after punishment on him, it was Certas who stood by his side talking him through the pain, keeping him focused.

It was in their fourth year that they earned their nicknames, Red Death and Golden Flame. The day began innocently enough with a patrol along the edge of the border between the First Lord’s lands and the wood lands. Raiders had been active recently, slipping into nearby villages and harrying the people, stealing livestock. Both boys had been on this patrol before, in the summer of their third year. The small skirmishes never amounted to much, with the raiders generally turning and running at the sight of the Academy’s patrols and so the group marched along, laughing and joking about the recent dance and Irial’s refusal to accept Shymon’s offer of a waltz.

“She certainly put you in your place, Shymon!  I do believe her exact words were ‘Why would I dance with that great big lummox; do I look like a fool who enjoys the pain of flattened feet?’” Certas chortled. “I don’t think you should have forgotten your date the other night, you’ll have to do some fancy talking to get back in her good graces my friend!”  Shymon’s face burst into red flame, a full-on match to his hair, while his friends continued to rib him good naturedly. Enjoying his discomfort, the boys marched after the captain, their youthful laughter bouncing and echoing off the surrounding old growth.

The forest fell ominously silent around them as a barrage of Elementium arrows flew rapidly from multiple directions, driving through the encompassing shields of air, piercing Captain Aaron’s throat. All quickly became chaos as the captain crashed to the floor his life’s blood pulsing onto the ground. Left leaderless, the patrol, still only boys of fifteen, fled in several different directions trying, and mostly failing, to escape the deadly missiles. Forgetting the training they had received in fear for their lives.

So it was that Shymon found himself back-to-back with Certas in a clearing deep in the woods. Both boys with their weapons drawn, Certas with a sword in each hand as had become his custom. Their eyes moving restlessly along the perimeter of the trees, searching for the hidden enemy they knew must be there cloaked in a shifting shroud of elements, camouflaged from sight.

An unnatural fog, thick and moist, began rolling in from the river. The dense wall cutting off the last sounds of the fleeing soldiers, isolating the two boys and heightening the eerie silence left behind by the dead.

“Who are these men Certas? There’s no way these are raiders, only a trained warrior would have been able to use mind magic with such skill. He managed to lull the entire patrol into a sense of complacency. It’s one thing that we didn’t feel this attack coming, but Captain Aaron was a skilled soldier. There’s no way they should have been able to place that lull on him as well. What are we up against here?”

Certas silently sent his friend a mind message. They’re here, I can feel them pulling the elements, drawing them in. Don’t let them know we’re on to them, I want them unprepared. And remember, do not draw on your inner elements if you can avoid it, it’s the quickest way to drain yourself.

“Right.”  Shymon quickly surveyed the area around them with his elemental senses as they had been taught in the Academy, searching for easily accessed sources of elemental power. A quarter mile away a stream bubbled and gurgled through the surrounding trees. The wind blew softly, rustling their hair and making the leaves dance. Metal buried deeply beneath their feet would be the hardest element to access, but there was a deposit of iron somewhere below that they could draw from in a moment of desperation. And there, a carefully banked fire in the raiders’ camp.

A branch cracked as a full dozen raiders, men and women, materialized from the misty nothingness between the dense canopy of trees. They moved with the lanky fluidity of people who had lived their whole lives around roots that would trip you at a moment’s distraction. They formed a ring around the clearing and surrounded the boys.

“Well, well, what have we here? Some little rats come out of their hole to play. Do we take them to the boss or give them a taste of our swords? What do you say boyos?”

As one, the boys turned to face the direction of the amplified voice, watching as the encompassing cloak of elements dissipated to reveal their foe. Tall and lean, his black hair glistening in its tight topknot, the leader appraised the youths standing before them. His full sculpted lips crooked into a semblance of a smile, dark intelligent eyes appraising the entire scene in a heartbeat. He stood with the air of the self-assured. A master, fully aware that he stood in the presence of peasants.  Immediately, their eyes were drawn to the finely crafted Elementium sword, clearly emblazoned with the mark of a master, gleaming ominously in the shaft of sunlight piercing the trees.

Shymon, he’s the one, that sword confirms it. He placed the lull on Captain Aaron. He’s an elementalist. Leave him to me. I sense no other pulls which means the others are mere soldiers, do you think you can take them all?

Never taking his eyes from the threat in front of them, Shymon gave a slight inclination of his head. His eyes taking on a steely glint, and a slightly wicked smile sliding into place on his face even as deep-dark laughter bubbled forth from deep within his chest. The sound reverberating around the clearing, piercing many a rebel soldier’s heart with a dart of fear for what was to come.

A gout of flame mixed with a strong gust of wind propelled forth from Certas, carrying with it the force of his fear and anger, tearing up the earth in front of the man who had spoken.

Laughing at the obviously youthful folly of the boys before them, but also cognizant of the boys’ power not yet fully mastered, the men and women began to advance, their blades upraised, shining in the misty green light of the forest.

Lorcan, smiling widely at the challenge, gave a casual flick of his wrist, handily unleashing a wall of water and earth to meet Certas’ flames. As water-logged earth met fire, flame died, and steam boiled in the air, forming a solid wall of crystallized rock between the two combatants.

Leaving the elemental leader to his friend, Shymon drew forth his two great battle axes, the two two-handed weapons grasped easily in his large meaty hands. Even as he unsheathed the massive weapons his center reached out pulling in golden threadlike elements of fire from the camp nearby, strengthening his heart even as gritty brown ribbons of earth seeped into his muscles, wrapping around them and delivering the power and grace of the dragon.        

Axe blades whirling, Shymon crouched and launched himself high into the air, soaring and spinning like the ancient winged beasts in a warm updraft, clean across the clearing. Axes spun and swooped in sync with his flight, neatly cleaving the heads from two unprepared foes before he landed with concussive force, crouched on one knee. Great blades poised for attack; he raised his eyes to face the ten remaining rebels arrayed before him.

Behind him, Certas became a blur of motion rushing the rebel leader, swords flashing. Simultaneously, he unleashed a flurry of darts formed from water and air toward his enemy’s chest. Lorcan danced backward, sword ready to defend, small bursts of fire intercepting the watery darts, puffs of steam rising into the air. Using the Elementium sword in his right hand to pierce the strong shield around Lorcan, Certas deftly raised the left, delivering a deep slice across the man’s face.

Instantly, Lorcan’s wound began to knit as he pulled from the surrounding sources of elemental power. Silvery thin threads of glistening water rushed into damaged cells, plumping them and rejuvenating them even as his body drew from within, using the strength of metal to seal his flesh, knitting the edges of the rent skin together. Within moments, nothing remained of the wound but a thin line of smeared blood along the master’s cheek. Inclining his head to Certas, the briefest of acknowledgements, Lorcan resumed his fighting position, blade raised and ready to strike. His stance that of a man still supremely confident in his knowledge and skills, but also aware that he might have underestimated the youth before him.

Certas gave a gasp of surprise as he felt his opponent’s mind probe, sharp and powerful, almost overwhelming in its potency. As his body continued to move in the dance of swords, Certas erected a solid barrier around his mind, pushing back Lorcan’s invasion and sending forth a complicated lull of his own.

Spurred on by his friend’s mad dance, Shymon allowed the pulsating anger and bloodlust to well within him. Disregarding Certas’s earlier warning about drawing from within, he reached deeply into his center pulling forth a mixture of metal, fire, and wood to provide him with an extra burst of stealth, strength, and speed. He felt the metal element seeping from his pores, flowing through and around the wooden haft of his axes, reaching into the sharp blades. The weapons becoming an extension of his own arms. Locking a shield of air in place, he charged two of the men standing directly in front of him. His right leg flashing up, taking the bigger man neatly in the groin while his axe blade clashed against the other’s downward stroke.

Fueled by the red haze of carefully banked anger he pressed forward, a giant amongst children. Again, again, and again he raised his axes, his elementally enhanced muscles straining, bringing the blades slicing down toward the enemy over and over. Caught in the thrill of battle he became a whirlwind of motion, his blades cutting, battering, and hacking the men and women before him. Driving forward with a strength and speed that none of the surrounding mortal soldiers could ever hope to match.

 Even as he slashed and cut, he manipulated the elements, thrusting outward with a concentrated flow of air mixed with earth, blinding one enemy as he neatly removed the head of another with a well-placed strike from his massive axe. Continually advancing, his size and ferocity driving him forward as blood spattered his face.

It was done. Shymon stood, breathing raggedly, surrounded by carnage, eyes searching for his friend.

Lorcan, aware of the defeat of his companions, and facing Certas’s untrained but powerful elemental onslaught quickly assessed the situation. The addition of Shymon to their battle, drained as he was, would lessen the odds in his favor. Ever quick to save his own skin, Lorcan raised a storm of earth and fire between himself and the boys. With an icy grin and a cocky salute, he sheathed his weapon, and turned to take his leave.

“This is not the end boy,” he spoke in parting over his shoulder, “Fintan will hear of this. I pity the day you come before him!  He’ll make you rue the day you were born.” With that last threat, Lorcan took his leave, skillfully wrapping himself in a camouflaging cloak of wood and air, disappearing into the forest’s depths.

Certas watched him go, felt the shock coursing through his body. Fintan. His brother. Alive? Leading the rebels? It didn’t make sense. The sound of something heavy falling to the forest floor had him whipping around, swords at the ready.

Weary to the bone, Shymon had staggered his way over to Certas before collapsing to his knees.

Wild crashing broke the silence of the clearing as the rescue patrol, seasoned soldiers, burst onto the scene. Their skilled and practiced eyes flashing around the clearing, taking in everything at once.

Shymon knelt in the center of the clearing, great battle axes resting across his knees, head bowed, adrenaline fueled tears washing two clear trails through the blood and grime coating his normally jovial face. Certas, tall and strong, stood over his friend with his double swords drawn, blonde hair blowing free around his handsome face. His cloak billowing out behind him as the sun pierced the rapidly dissipating fog, limning him in its golden glory.

 The earth around the two fifteen-year olds was scarred with elemental damage, steam filled the air, and a solidified wall of hard-baked clay ringed the boys in an almost perfect circle. A full dozen bodies lay among the wreckage, many minus the heads that had been brutally hacked off by the razor-sharp edges of Shymon’s axes.

Once the boys had returned to the base camp and the healing had taken place, the legend began to grow. By the time Certas and Shymon were able to leave the infirmary, they were the heroes of fourth year, and well on their way to becoming two of the most recognized students the Academy had ever produced.

***

“That was the way of it boy, Certas and I graduated our fifth year with distinction. We entered the First Lord’s army as captains, and within eight years Certas had worked himself up to the position of general, putting down rebellions in the water lands and the wood lands. He soon became a favorite of the First Lord, almost like a son. I was no slouch myself, mind, being his right-hand man and all.”

Shymon stole a quick glance at Caiden and Akira, their mouths hanging open, their eyes bright as they listened to the tale of their uncle and father and his adventures with the man known throughout the land as the Golden General. He waited and was not disappointed.

“What about the Battle of the Golden General, uncle? Surely you’re not done?”

Ever one to draw out the suspense, Shymon gave his shoulders a slight shrug as he turned back to the horses, hiding the twinkle in his eyes. “I’m not sure your mother would like you to hear about all this violence Akira. She’s sure to give me an earful tonight if I keep on. And you, Caiden, you know your father does not like talk of war. Perhaps I’d best close my big yap and finish up with these fine beasties before I find myself in deep water.”

“Father….”  Akira protested, squaring her shoulders, prepared to launch into him with all she had. Caiden gave her a nudge, pointing to his uncle’s shaking shoulders and giving her a knowing smile.

Then they were upon him. Caiden wrestling him about the knees. Akira raining blows on his back. “Father, you’re not funny, not funny at all. You know we want to hear the rest. Why must you joke about everything?”

Laughing, he grasped them both by the nape of the neck, giving them a gentle shake and seating them back on their bales of hay. “Alright daughter, alright. Mercy. I’ll continue…”

***

The dawn light shone across the battlefield, tendrils of morning mist rising like reaching fingers from the verdant green grass. Soon all would be chaos, but at the moment everything was calm as the respective forces took these last precious moments to review their plans, assess their strategies, and focus their nerves.

The Golden General, resplendent upon his majestic mount, rode before his troops, his rallying cry stirring their furor and steeling their backbones.

Not by any flicker of the eye did he give away the worry that was eating away at him.

Shymon, our wives, what will become of them and our unborn babes if we should fall? They are so near their time.

“We are the sons and daughters of our First Lord, his chosen warriors.”  Certas’s voice rang out strong and clear, cutting through the noise of the camp and drawing every eye toward him. His already powerful voice amplified by flowing tendrils of air and metal. “We’ve survived forays across the wall, innumerable battles, continuously marching toward this moment. This is our opportunity, our chance to end this rebellion once and for all. Stand behind me, give me your minds, your elements, your hearts and we will triumph, legends for all time!”

Certas caught Shymon’s eye, sending another silent mind message to his best friend and second in command, as raucous cheers rose around them.

We’ve done all we can here, we are badly outnumbered, but our strategy is sound, and we hold the Elementium advantage. Make sure you stay alert. Good luck my friend, may the blessings of Cosmos protect you!

Giving his leader a slight nod of acknowledgement, Shymon turned to look over their arrayed forces. “I don’t know about you lot,” Shymon’s booming voice cut across the excited murmurs of the troops, “but this feels like a good day to do some killing!  Enough of this fancy talk, let’s do this!”  With that pronouncement he reached his massive arms behind him to draw forth the gleaming axes, marked with the sign of a master. Using his knees, he urged his great warhorse forward onto the field, his face set in its familiar lines of fury and determination.     Inspired by the commitment and bravery of their leaders, the men and women of the First Lord’s army began to advance, elemental masters well-versed in the arts of war. Shields of air raised protectively around them, eyes searching across the field, looking for the non-elemental archers they knew they would have to disable first.

Surrounded by his own protective air shield, Shymon, too, directed his eyes to the other side of the field. There. Off to the left of the center guard, surrounded by a strong group of elemental warriors, there was the quarry. The target both he and Certas had been given by the First Lord. Fintan, Certas’s traitorous brother, and his right-hand man, Lorcan, the foe they had faced in the woods nine years previously.

Certas, he sent, there.

Together they rode forth, as they had many times before. Shymon’s blood singing with the excitement of battle and the thrill of bloodlust.

To his left, an explosion of earth and air erupted beneath the feet of the advancing army. Men and women screamed, their bodies torn and bleeding. But the advance continued, in battle death was an old accepted friend; the time for mourning would come when the day was done.

The battle ground had been well chosen, all five of the elements flowed freely here and they were being pulled and manipulated on both sides of the field. All around the fighting warriors elements clashed in every way possible, the sky darkening to an ominous slate gray, lightning streaking down and tearing large swathes in the earth. The ill-prepared were swallowed by giant chasms while others fell victim to the great blades of water and air that spun rapidly around the masters, shearing through any inadequate shields of air. Great columns of fire, fed by gouts of air, swirled and climbed to the sky, burning everything in their path. This was the battle to end all battles. The First Lord’s best against the rebellion’s final warriors. In this, as in everything, there would be no quarter.

Shymon shot forth blends of water and fire, scalding oncoming foes. His well-trained mount, Cathal, weaved around groups of warriors, trod across fallen bodies, continuing to move them forward while his master delivered deadly blows from one or another of his powerful war axes.

Side-by-side he rode with the Golden General. Fighting forward, inch-by-bloody-inch. Each determined to reach his target, to achieve honor in the eyes of their lord.

A sudden probe pierced Shymon’s mind, and for a moment his vision hazed. He was tired, so tired. What was he doing here on this field, why wasn’t he sleeping? Sleep invited him, called to him, wooed him. He was with Irial, disrobing for bed, preparing to talk to his daughter, the babe active in her swollen belly.

Shymon!  Resist man, its mind magic!

Certas’s voice roared through his mind, waking him from his stupor. He jerked erect, just in time to avoid the deadlythrust of an enemy warrior’s Elementium tipped spear. With a roar, he infused his right arm with a powerful mixture of air and metal, and swung the axe with inhuman force, cleaving through the spearman’s shoulder and down into his chest, lodging his axe tight.

Leaving the weapon, he looked around for the source of the probe, it had been powerful. More powerful than any probe he had ever felt. Where? Where was the mind master?

Lorcan appeared before him. Nine years older and much more deadly. He smiled that familiar smirk, his eyes full of ice and steel, and inclined his head as he had done long ago with Certas. Shymon knew. Here was the mind master, here was his fate.

Eyes glued to one another, both men dismounted. Shymon raising his remaining axe, Lorcan with his single blade glinting in the early morning sun. A sudden blast of air swept past Shymon’s ear, pulling his attention to the left as Lorcan’s blade swept in from the right. Just in time, Shymon parried, weakly deflecting the blow, stumbling slightly. Pressing his advantage, Lorcan swiftly brought his blade back around, slicing neatly across Shymon’s right thigh.

Shocked by the pain, Shymon stepped backward, using the surrounding elemental power of water and metal to strengthen the cells and reinforce the skin, to knit the wound and staunch the bleeding. Desperate for time, he sent a blinding mind probe at Lorcan only to feel it slide aside uselessly.

“You boys showed such promise, is that all you’ve got big man? Are all the stories of the Red Death just that, stories?” Lorcan laughed condescendingly, his confidence growing with each pathetic attempt Shymon made to defend himself.

Spurred by the enticing prospect of victory, he slid forward, blade upraised to deliver the killing blow, stepping deftly over the metal infused roots Shymon pulled forth from the surrounding earth. He was no untried boy, to be caught by such simple trickery.

The moment’s distraction served its true purpose, allowing Shymon to recover himself and return to his fighting stance, single axe moving sinuously in his hand as he allowed the red haze to slowly overwhelm his vision.

Once more Lorcan darted a mental probe at the big man, this one designed to shatter his will and break his mind while at the same time raising his sword, prepared to slice Shymon’s head from his shoulders once he dropped to his knees, helpless to respond.

It was Lorcan’s turn to be shocked. The big man’s mind was untouchable. Not just protected by a shield. It was completely unreachable. Lorcan, unsurpassed as a mind master, threw another probe, bending his will, attacking from a variety of angles, searching in every direction. His enemy’s mind was absent, gone.

He heard the laughter, deep and dark. Then he knew.

He knew why they called Shymon the Red Death. He was a berserker, that rare elementalist whose mind disappeared behind a wall of anger and fury so potent and strong, that it was unreachable.

As quickly as that, the tide of the fight changed.

Taking advantage of his enemy’s momentary shock and hesitation, Shymon’s axe whistled down, neatly severing Lorcan’s sword hand from his arm. Blood spouted from the wound, dark and red as the mind master’s scream pierced the air.

The gaping hole in Lorcan’s wrist began to close as he pulled a wide range of elements from within to staunch the injury. Unfortunately for the rebel warrior, Shymon, aware of the energy required to perform such strong self-healing, and quick to learn, mirrored Lorcan’s debilitating probe and turned it back on its maker.

The probe bit deep, and for the first time ever, Lorcan understood what it was to fear. Images flooded his mind, one after the other, with a rapidity that was frightening and overwhelming. With an almost audible snap his mind broke, his eyes glazed over and his gaze became vacant and distant.

Shymon raised his bloody axe above his head, prepared to take Lorcan’s miserable life, when he noticed the unnatural stillness that had fallen over the battlefield. Looking up from the enemy kneeling before him, he saw soldiers on both sides frozen, their eyes on the scene in the center of the battlefield. An invisible truce in place, as all silently agreed to step back and watch what promised to be the greatest battle in history…

***

Shymon cleared his throat and looked at the horses. “Well it seems these creatures are quite well-cared for and content, why don’t we head in to enjoy your aunt’s fabulous meal and a little village gossip? Then you can both get on with your adventures.”

Clapping a big beefy hand onto Caiden’s shoulder, Shymon headed out of the barn to follow his own advice.           

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