Ithuriel: Inception (Chapter One)
Presenting original fantasy fiction from Robert Roach, this prose series features sword and soul hero Ithuriel in adventures placed in fantasy lands.
As the wind howls above the combatants -- but doesn't quite reach the plaza, the young warrior readies for combat.
"Just one more fight!" Ithuriel encourages himself. "One more battle."
He looks beyond Liwâ's blood-stained tip, directly at Botocudoz' dispassionate face.
The wind whips the shrub tops as Ithuriel & Botocudoz eye each other with detached malice. Then, simultaneously, both men draw their swords.
"Though I must kill you, Ithuriel," Botocudoz says, "I salute your grit. Your tenacity. Your sense of commitment. But this coup isn't just about Sandeh or Kahnuri -- it's Alk'bulaan-wide. It goes far beyond this fight between you & me.
"Please know that I will honor your memory."
Ithuriel really doesn't have a response. Sweat trailing into his eyes, the young man nods his head slightly. He grunts to Botocudoz, signaling that he's ready.
Blue sparks & an ear-splitting "clang" are created by their swords clashing.
The wind has blown all night & it continues to do so. But the blustery conditions don't reach the plaza. The shrubbery, wall & garrison's building prevent the gusts from reaching the staging grounds, by-&-large.
The two continue to go at it. Their footing is sure & easy on the very flat & relatively smooth plaza. Generations of soldiers' repeated comings-&-goings have made the plaza so. There are hardly any cracks or uneven spots that might trip up a trooper. It's a good, reliable spot for this type of duel.
However, a small, solitary pebble inexplicably begins to roll. It isn't being affected by the wind, which can't reach the plaza. Though only an inch or 2 at a time, it moves -- seemingly with a mind of its own & sometimes up slight inclines.
Ithuriel initiates a furious flurry. He's well aware that ending this battle soon-than-later is in his best interest. Despite Ithuriel's purposeful activity, Botocudoz turns this attack aside.
The general counters with a flourish of his own. Ithuriel is hard pressed to neutralize this effort, barely keeping the Sandeh swordsman's blade from his skin.
Botocudoz grimly grins a bit at Ithuriel's obvious unease.
Like his fight with Ayana, the young warrior realizes that Botocudoz is more skilled with his blade than himself. However, their disparity in strength isn't as pronounced as Ithuriel's & the princess's. The young man is stronger -- & quicker, but Ithuriel can't match Botocudoz' expertise.
Sandeh's top soldier is steadily gaining the upper hand in this duel. Ithuriel & Botocudoz are huffing as they destructively wield their blades. However, Ithuriel's more taxed & winded than his opponent.
After the evening this young warrior has endured, this is to be expected. Nonetheless, Ithuriel fights powerfully & cleverly, acquitting himself well. The two men move across the plaza's entirety. They move as if executing a deadly, choreographed dance -- jumping, lunging, spinning & slashing. Nonetheless, the men succeed at avoiding the unconscious Kahnuri soldier & the skittish warhorses.
All the while, the tiny rock continues to move independently.
Botocudoz is smiling. More & more, he's taking the fight to Ithuriel -- steadily dictating its cadence. If things don't change, Ithuriel's demise is inevitable.
As he's moving in for the kill, Botocudoz compliments his bigger combatant. The Sandeh general's sword arm seems to bend like rubber. His right arm & rapier seem like a blur.
"Everyone in the castle was right about you. And I think that the magus is correct to fear you, young warrior," the general says.
Slash! Ithuriel barely ducks in time, placing Liwâ between his head & Botocudoz' blade with hardly a split-second to spare.
"With a bit more time & experience, I speculate that our tables would be turned & you'd be on the verge of victory."
Now, a brief flourish by Botocudoz punctuates this fight. It reveals -- to both of them -- how weary Ithuriel is becoming. The larger swordsman is moving a quarter of a step slower.
"However, life isn't about speculation. In this 'here' & this 'now,' your death seems likely."
Botocudoz tries a stab to Ithuriel's abdomen. The scarred general triples-up on the move, steadily forcing Ithuriel into a position that's favorable to the Sandeh warrior. Ithuriel "windmills" his broadsword, swiping at the lightly toned warrior's weapon in a defensive manner & barely deflecting Botocudoz' attack.
Ithuriel is desperate. His heart is breaking over this night's events. "Is this justice?!" he screams inside himself.
But he quickly steels himself.
There is no reason to feel sorry at this plight. There are only reasons to fight. To persevere. Justice. Injustice. In the middle of a fight to the death, all such concepts are irrelevant.
So Ithuriel tries to concentrate on this battle.
The young warrior doubles down on his efforts. Shoving aside his bone-deep fatigue, Ithuriel presses on. Though Liwâ feels heavier with each swing & the general's attack seems relentless, the Kahnuri swordsman continues to fight.
Ithuriel grits his teeth & keeps at it. He remains on the defensive as -- each second -- the duel saps more of his strength. The colossal warrior even -- very briefly -- looks for a Machiavellian way to protect himself & win this fight.
This is understandable. Nearly everyone in his situation would have these thoughts.
Even if he were serious about executing some kind of duplicitous, devious plan, there are no notorious means close at hand to do so. No dust or such to kick into Botocudoz' eyes.
Ithuriel would like to think that he wouldn't stoop to such tricks, even if these options were available.
Again, since executing such actions is moot, Ithuriel puts these considerations out of his mind. He smiles at himself &, in the middle of this battle, slightly shrugs his shoulders. He'll never know what he might have done if, to win this fight, he'd had a chance to underhandedly attack the general.
Within the same instant, Ithuriel returns his concentration to the combat.
Inch by inch, the small stone rolls on -- turning slightly.
Despite his dire straits, the young barbarian intensifies his efforts. He uses all of the tricks taught by his father. The tricks taught by his military instructors. What he has learned in all the encounters that Ithuriel has stuffed into his brief lifetime.
However, none of this is enough.
Ithuriel's internal monolog is, again, an earnest entreaty -- a scream for relief. A desire to truly uphold honor & fairness.
This is all for naught.
Botocudoz continues to scrutinize Ithuriel. The young warrior intently stares back. Both men, sweaty & with arms crisscrossed by crimson rivulets, battle to their limits. However -- finally, the general believes that he has sized up & fully understands Ithuriel's strengths & weaknesses.
The warrior from Aston seems to be aware of this too. And his desperation causes Ithuriel to look around for alternatives. But there's nothing close by.
Botocudoz smiles slightly as he sets up for his killing pass. The general slashes at Ithuriel in the same way that he has on his last three passes.
Tired and, as a result, impetuous in his reaction, Ithuriel goes for Botocudoz' fake. The general breaks off his forehand slash, quickly following it with a full backhand swipe.
Ithuriel awkwardly dodges this swipe. Botocudoz halfway grins as he immediately feigns a strike at Ithuriel's left side.
This feint wrong-foots Ithuriel.
Despite his exhaustion, Ithuriel's supra-human speed allows him to react & parry Botocudoz' attack. But he's off-balance.
Their blades clash again, creating a bit of rhythm. Ithuriel's body rocks exactly the way that the general has intended.
The boy's death is at hand. The general realizes that his task is nearly done.
Botocudoz plants his left foot for purchase. The general then begins to plant his right. He intends to gather balance & power in order to initiate his killing stroke's flourish.
But -- somehow -- the wayward pebble has rolled beneath that foot.
Due to this slightest of imbalances, Botocudoz' guard shifts by a fraction of a fraction of an inch. But this fraction's fraction is enough.
Within this half a second, Botocudoz' expression reveals his slight surprise. However, the general has no fear. He is convinced that he still has the tactical advantage. No reason for anxiety.
Or so he thinks.
Had the general's assumption -- that he is fighting an extraordinary combatant with above average human speed & strength -- been correct, Botocudoz would likely have no problem achieving his victory.
But this notion is wrong.
Ithuriel has supra-human speed & supra-human strength.
Deftly using Liwâ to slip inside Botocudoz' blade's tip, Ithuriel slashes with a downward stroke.
The tip of his blade barely slices the Sandeh warrior's forehead & cheek diagonally -- from the general's left temple to next to his mouth.
With this gash, Ithuriel adds another chapter to Botocudoz' scar's history.
The Sandeh general shouts as he collapses, his broadsword clattering aside. Blood is gushing across his face & blinding him.
The Kahnuri warrior silently exults over his triumph. He looks down on the lighter-toned man as the general gropes in pain. Out of abundant caution, the young man kicks Botocudoz' broadsword out of arm's reach. Then, within seconds, the Ithuriel's bone-deep fatigue causes his shoulders to slump.
Once more, the heavens moan -- still pregnant with furious, unspent energy.
Ithuriel is aware that the wise move -- his best move -- is to skewer Botocudoz. Right here -- in the midst of his vulnerability. The barbarian should kill the momentarily helpless man without a second thought.
It will be the smart action. The most ruthless action.
Suddenly -- for a second, he is a bit torn. Ithuriel debates the thought for a couple of heavy seconds, the grey morning sky swirling above him.
The young warrior's steely gaze finally relaxes -- just a bit.
Sighing, Ithuriel puts Liwâ away. He takes a last look at Botocudoz as the general spasms in agony.
Then Ithuriel turns his eyes toward the skittish horses. The chargers feel the oppressive weather & sense Aston's atmosphere of mayhem. Full of nervous energy, the horses are ready to run.
At this fortuitous moment, the sky finally groans, shrieks & crackles with thunder & lightning. It seems as if -- at last -- the evening's tremendous volume of tension breaks loose.
A biting, horizontal downpour -- sparse at first, but growing in intensity -- begins to fall.
Ithuriel wastes no more time. He briskly walks past the screaming general & then, a few strides later, over the unconscious Kahnuri soldier.
The bronze warrior hurries to the general's borrowed horse & grasps its tethers. He then steps to his own pilfered steed & mounts the charger. Ithuriel quickly ties the reins for Botocudoz' horse to his saddle.
As sheets of stinging rain begin to deluge the city, Ithuriel & his two warhorses blaze on the southward-bound thoroughfare. The tired young warrior deeply inhales the moist air. It smells like freedom. And uncertainty.
With a grim smile, Ithuriel heads out of town & toward an unknowable future.
Ithuriel story elements are the sole property of Robert Roach/Hometown Productions ©2020
Words and illustrations by Robert Roach