"The sword slashes the enemy, but the sheath protects you. As long as you have the sheath on you, you will spill no blood and take no wounds. You should truly value the sheath, not the sword."
The magic circle and summoned forge that lit my room in orange-red began to fade away. The pale glow covering my latest creation kept the room illuminated in a soft azure haze.
The artifact floated downwards gently like a feather. But this was no feather—this was the product of three months of painstaking work, a beautiful and noble craft of metallic gold, silver, and blue.
I reached for it. My hand hovered over it hesitatingly, as if afraid of dirtying this priceless treasure.
And I was afraid, in all honesty. What if it didn't work? What if it didn't accept me as its owner?
This was so much more than anything else I'd tried to make. It was more complicated, more exhausting, more demanding than any of the trinkets I'd made before—not that they were really trinkets—just that this artifact was so far beyond them they seemed like trinkets by comparison.
This was my magnum opus. It would make or break my yet to begin hero career.
In the legends, it was said that the sword chose the king. This wasn't the sword, but didn't the sheathe count as part of the set? If it didn't work for me, then I'd have wasted three months for nothing.
Never mind. I had to believe I was worthy. That my power wouldn't let me forge an item that wouldn't work for me.
I grasped it firmly in my hand.
I heard a chorus of song whispering in my ears. It wasn't any language I'd ever heard of, but somehow I understood it. The image of fairies dancing around a pure lake and lush forest came to mind. Melodious and uplifting, it sent waves of tranquility and peace throughout my body.
—Avalon: The Everdistant Utopia
My tense muscles, palpitating heartbeat, and tight throat—all of it relaxed in an instant.
I felt like my worries literally melted away. I couldn't remember ever feeling so content in my life, at least not after mom died. All the bullying and hurt from Emma's betrayal seemed so insignificant now. So far away—like they belonged to another world altogether.
I blinked my eyes, looking around confused. What was I doing? How did I get here, to this meadow in clear daylight when it was supposed to be night outside?
"Try pulling out this sword."
I turned abruptly to the voice. It was a woman, a breathtakingly beautiful blonde woman in shining steel armour, who held an air of nobility, a presence that made me feel small standing before her even though I was the taller one.
She was gesturing to a sword that was stuck into a rectangular patch of elevated smooth stone conspicuously sticking out from the uniform grass around us.
"Hunh?" I let out stupidly before I could stop myself.
"This sword. Try pulling it out," she said.
Her voice held an aura of command I found hard to resist. I couldn't seem to think straight, barely questioning why I was doing it even as my hand found the handle of the ornate sword.
I pulled. It didn't budge. I pulled harder. Nothing at all. I tried pulling with both hands. Still nothing.
"Tell me child, if you were a king, how would you rule? With honour and justice? With strength and power? With majesty and glory?" the woman asked.
I paused in my efforts to pull the sword to think about the question.
If I were a king…
I thought about all the unfair treatment I'd gotten at school. I was bullied by the trio with almost constant attacks and insults, stolen assignments, and even that one horrible "prank" that sent me to the hospital and triggered my powers.
Nobody else seemed to care. Not the students, not the teachers, not the principal.
I wanted justice. For the trio to pay for their crimes, and for me and any other students being bullied to be free to properly pursue an education like my mom wanted for me.
I thought about all the gangs and broken people in Brockton Bay. The city was a dump, if I was brutally honest. People were out of work and turning to drugs, girls were being forced into sex slavery, and every day had a new headline about some gang fight or other.
There weren't enough heroes on the streets to stop the crimes.
I wanted power. To fight the villains and stop crime. Make Brockton Bay a safe place again and get rid of all the gangs.
I thought about my dad and the way he seemed to lose all life after mom died. When was the last time he smiled? When was the last time I'd had a proper conversation with him?
It was partially my own fault, I knew, but I didn't know what to do.
I wanted glory. Not personal glory to brag about, but to show my dad what I could do, what I would achieve with my powers. I wanted to bring the life back into him, and show him how things could change and be better. A future to look forward to.
"If I were king…then I would rule with justice, power, and glory! I would uphold justice for all no matter how insignificant or small, I would protect my people with my power, and I would bring glory to the downtrodden so that they can live with hope again!"
"If that shall be your path of kingship, then focus that feeling, imagine your rule, and take hold of that dream with your own two hands! Pull with the full might of your resolve!"
I gritted my teeth and focused hard on what I wanted. I imagined myself standing triumphantly in resplendent armour, over my rescued victims and captured villains, declaring the beginning of a new era of prosperity in Brockton Bay before a crowd of adulating citizens.
I gathered all of my will and every ounce of strength in every muscle of my entire body and pulled!
The sword shifted with a creak, moving excruciatingly slowly upwards little by little…
…to be an inch higher than before and stopped.
I gasped and hit the ground on my knees with exhaustion, barely holding myself upright by the handle of the sword.
I kept panting as the woman whispered to herself, feeling a sense of disappointment and shame. I wasn't good enough after all. How stupid of me to think I was worthy of being a king.
"Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone, is right wise King born of all England. Though I pulled it forth, I never did unlock its full potential, for I was not the perfect king. When it shattered in my hands as I betrayed my honor upon the field of battle, I thought never to see it whole again. If it has come to you, and moved even slightly for your hands, then mayhap it shall find a true wielder once more in time," she said, patting my head.
I turned to her with wide eyes.
"You're King Arthur?!"
She gave me a mysterious smile in return.
"Once upon a time, a wise Magician asked me if I preferred the sword or the sheath. I foolishly said the sword then, and in my carelessness lost the much more valuable sheath. 'Twas an error that allowed for my eventual defeat. You, however, have made the correct choice."
The field of meadow evaporated away.
I found myself in my room again, holding the sheath of legend.
"Go on, I give thee my blessings, young squire. Henceforth, thou art the true owner of Avalon." Her voice reverberated in my head.
I gulped and stared in shock as the sheath dissipated into millions of golden motes, basking the whole room in a magnificent holy aura. The motes swirled around me like a miniature cyclone before rushing into my body.
"When the time is right, return to draw forth the Sword in the Stone, only then shall you be able to forge it anew."
I felt an intense warmth suffusing every limb, as if discovering a profound fortitude and confidence invigorating me from within.
I did it. I was finally ready to be a hero.