Thursday, July 30, 2009



Two riders traveled across the dull red sands, steering by the compass one held in his hand. They, together with their mounts, were the only living creatures to be seen.

"Why go we on this course?" one rider asked the other. "You told me little, before we departed."

"We seek a sword," the second rider replied. Some notable resemblance he bore to the first, suggesting a relationship; were they brothers, or cousins, as seemed possible, the second rider would be the younger of them.

"Why?" the older rider asked. "We have swords, buckled to our waists - fine ones, too, good enough to best any not forged of pure Damascus steel. And more importantly - you say we seek a sword, yet there are two of us. This seems a situation likely to involve conflict."

"This is a sword neither of us will wish to claim," the younger rider replied cryptically.

"Then why do we seek it?" the older rider asked.

"This is a very special sword, forged by processes not generally used," the younger rider said. "With one stroke of the blade, any man may be slain. With two strokes, any fortification may be laid to ruin, and its inhabitants destroyed. With three strokes, the world shall be split asunder."

"I repeat my question," the older rider said.

"There are dark omens about," the younger rider said. "The fields grow barren, the people grow hungry, There are stories of a Lord in Black, who comes bearing death in his hand. It is a season of metal; and we must gather to us what we can, that it should not be turned against us."

"...I see," the older rider said.

They rode in silence, after that, across the endless red sands.


The riders arrived at a tall citadel, walled with grey-stone and well-maintained. The riders called out to the guards, and at length managed to gain entry; as they stabled their mounts, an older man hurried to meet them.

"My sons!" he cried. "You have come here, to visit me! What joy is brought to my heart! Or - is there some other reason?"

The older son looked at the younger son. The younger son glanced back, and then answered. "We come here for supplies, and refreshments - and to visit you, of course. The tale is longer than that in full - but I will tell you later. First - the day was warm - "

"Of course, of course!" the father cried. Drinks were offered; introductions were made. "My cohorts - Gary, your birds are well?"

"They're not about at present," Gary answered, his quarters filled with clutter. "Swiftclaw was by earlier - but not now. Feedings are usually later in the afternoon,"

"I'd not realized there was a schedule," the father replied with surprise, while his sons looked on in bemusement. "Well - here! Albert - it's his birthday today." Alan waved. "Luc - he's much like you, I think," the father said, indicating the elder son. "Alan - all of you - my sons! My pride and joy!"

For a time the two brothers rested, taking many refreshments and examining the tomes stored in the citadel's library, watching their father with his liege-men - but time passed, and at length they needed to go.

"If there is anything more I can do -" the father asked.

Smiling, the sons waved goodbye, and rode off into the sandy red expanse.


In the centre of a great temple, ancient and ruined, the two brothers stood, their mounts not in evidence. The younger brother lay slumped on the ground; his elder stood, reading from a parchment.

"Three peaks ye shall pass; the third the tallest, and covered in snow even in the height of summer. Thou shalt turn to the east past this last, and leave ye the desert for the forested lands."

"It was so," the younger brother agreed.

"Then shall ye come upon a river; follow it, verily, until it reaches the sea, and thenceforth follow the shore until ye come upon a bay, which hath a town within it, being that of Longslope."

"The town was long gone," the younger brother said. "Only foundations remained."

"Within the town, find ye the inn being named the Head of Three Horses; speak ye with its keeper, and seek access to its cellars. Therein shalt thou find a passage to realms below; follow this, being sure to keep with you light, food, and arms, for the course shall be long and dangerous, and there will be little aid to keep ye."

"The cellar had collapsed, and the first part of the tunnel with it," the younger brother said. "We found entry into it from a nearby cave."

"Dangers and challenges shall there be many beneath the earth, but keep ye this in mind, and shall ye surely prevail: firstly, let ye keep always to the straight and true, for else ye shall be surely lost. Secondly, let ye ever expect danger where none appears, for no thing so far from the light of the sun will readily reveal its true nature. Thirdly, three guardians shall obstruct thy course: the thing with no face, the creature from another time, and the abomination that once was a man. When thou passeth the last, shall thou find thyself in a great domed chamber; this is the location of the prize thy seek."

"Here we are," the younger brother said, waving an arm at the surrounding chamber.

"Then shatter thee the five crystals within this place, being certain not to injure thineself in so doing, and firmly seize the sword from its altar-stone; then shall thy have the prize thy seek," the older brother concluded.

Beneath his foot, something glittered and crunched.

"We were too late," the younger brother said. "This is the place, this is where the sword was held - and we were too late."

"We must go back," the older brother said.

"Yes," the younger agreed. "What else may we do?"


The riders arrived at a tall citadel, walled in grey-stone and smashed to ruin as though struck by the Fist of God. Dust and smoke still rose from its halls; it had not been long since this calamity had struck.

Sharing a glance - horrified, terrified - the brother dismounted. Climbing over the rubble that had been a gatehouse, walking into the courtyard, they cried out: "Does any man yet live here? Are there survivors!"


They found him, his arm shattered by a fall, coughing as he told them what had happened. "A Lord in Black", he gasped, "Death within his hand. With his blade alone, he brought down our walls; it was a sword which no man might touch and live, though he did - "

"...the sword that we sought," the younger son said, his voice filled with immeasurable sorrow.

"Why?" the father asked, a fit of coughing following.

The younger son was silent.

"It is a season of metal," the older explained.

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