Amy hacked frustratedly at the flank of meat. She was anxious to end her role as a servant. For three weeks now she had slaved as a kitchen helper for Mui, the woman in charge of supervising her. Each day, as Tenzing's return was forestalled even longer, she gave Amy increasingly more tasks to do. The village of Kymiri seemed to be holding its breath until the guardian-in-training returned, and everyone became increasingly anxious as the anticipated event slid forever further into the unforeseeable future. It affected Amy no less than her captors. She had made up her mind three weeks ago that she would meet the guardian, but Mui tested her resolve to go through with the plan every day.
"Many of us wish the guardian had never come, or that the elders had sent him and his evil away. We are not like other villages in this country, for a part of our lives will always belong to that great evil. We provide food for the guardian, we train men to take his place. We shall have a succession of guardians as the cycle continues, but the evil will never lessen no matter how many times the cycle repeats," the woman spoke now. Amy spared a glance back, her fists bloodied by the meat and her teeth gritted in frustration. Mui seemed not to notice the hard glare, but continued sweeping the floor of the hut.
"Some say that the evil is so great that any woman who goes near the guarded chasm will become barren. And sometimes the evil energy manifests itself in the form of evil apparition, false spirits of the victim's departed relatives, who commune with him until their dark whispers claim his sanity. But worst of all is perhaps the lure of the evil's power. It draws to it the souls of heartless and greedy men—people, I fear, who will one day destroy this village in their quest to gain what we help to protect," she went on, casting a suspicious and appraising glance at Amy.
The girl looked away sharply, striking another cleaving blow to the flank of meat. She was tired of hearing about the "great evil." She was almost entirely certain that it referred to the legendary Soul Edge. She wanted to know more about the man who had brought it to this far corner of the world, but Mui, as talkative as she was, apparently found it inappropriate to speak of the nature of the guardian. He was a man, Amy knew that much. Could it be one of the warriors who had chased the dream of the legendary sword ten years ago? After her father had failed to retrieve the Soul Edge, losing his claim to the blade and very nearly losing his life to Nightmare. What if Nightmare had taken possession of the sword after defeating her father? Someone might have claimed it after all, then disappeared along with it. Something had then prompted him to destroy the Soul Edge, and that desire had led him all the way around the world. It made sense, but it also did not. Amy couldn't fathom how anyone could be possessed of the desire to destroy the Soul Edge. It must be part of the blade's "great evil," she decided, that even when its indomitable power was in one's hands, one still could not know contentment. However, I know Father will feel peace when he holds the Soul Edge in his hands. He is not so addicted to the want of having it that, when his want is filled, he would ever have to set about the journey in reverse. I don't believe in evil, in any case—or good, for that matter. There is only what line's in peoples' hearts.
That evening, when the meat Amy had prepared lay steaming in individual piles in the villagers' bowls, Tenzing returned. He entered the communal feasting hut as casually as if he had merely returned from a day of hunting. Amy stared at him, as surprised as the others gathered there, until Mui pressed a bowl into Amy's hands and bid her serve him. Then someone called for wine, and she sent Amy to another hut to fetch a cask of liquor.
As Amy stood outside the smaller storage hut, she came to the realization that this was the first time she had been free of supervision. This was her chance to search the village residences for Flamberge. But it was also her first to opportunity in a long time to speak with Tenzing. She needed to ask him about the guardian. She had to make certain that she would accompany him on his next visit to the keeper of the Soul Edge. She stood poised in the entryway of the storage hut, frozen with indecision.
Even if my journey here amounts to nothing, I must not lose Flamberge. It was a gift from Father, and it belonged to him once, she decided. She did not have the time to agonize over her course of action if she was to accomplish anything at all. Acting on her impulse, she bolted away from the communal feasting hut and toward the residences.
She searching the neatly arranged living quarters as quickly as possible, hoping she would not fail to discover it in her haste. Most of the huts were relatively small and sparsely decorated, but she had to be sure to check within baskets and other articles of storage—and put the removed items back in place as neatly as possible. She grew desperate as she felt her time growing short. Any minute now, someone might be sent to check on her. It would not take them long to find her. Then they would place her under stricter guard until... until when? There was no longer a "when." Tonight was the night that Tenzing decided her fate. If he ordered her to die, then she would need Flamberge to ensure a chance that she lived to see another day.
This is crazy, she realized. I can't fight my way out of this village, and then still hope to find the guardian. I should have stayed at the communal feasting hut and spoken with Tenzing. I should have convinced him that, instead of killing me, he should take me to the guardian.... She raced into another hut, her head spinning as she searched for her missing sword. The last light of day was quickly fading, decreasing her odds of success, draining away every last one of her options.
Golden light exploded from the snow-covered mountains as the sun released its dying rays. For a moment, the brilliant display set the village aglow. A dazzle of silver caught Amy's eye. Flamberge! She snatched it from a wooden rack, when it hung adjacent to an exotic recurve bow. Through her panic, it struck her how odd a pair the two weapons made—the rapier, a symbol of her Western world and the bow of this foreign country that rested above the clouds. Flamberge's familiar weight sent confidence and relief flowing through her body. But as she turned to leave the hut, a single voice stripped these sensations away.
"Amy," said Tenzing, his voice grave. "Where you are going, you won't need your sword."
Amy stepped into her fighting stance, Flamberge held protectively before her. Tenzing held his hands up to show that he was unarmed. But she could see that he had adopted a ready stance as well.
"The guardian is very interested in you," he went on, his voice coolly casual. "He requests that I bring you to him. I promise that no one here will harm you, Amy. If need be, I'll protect you myself. But you must surrender your weapon for now. I will return it to you after the guardian has seen you, but you must promise never to come to Kymiri again."
Amy lowered Flamberge, resting the point of the blade on the floor. Tenzing sounded sincere. In any case, what choice did she have but to trust him? He was presenting her with her goal. She might as well accept what he had in store for her.
"Here," he said, suddenly sounding apologetic. "May the power of Fire Monkey protect you instead for a time." He removed a necklace from under his robes and offered it to her. A wooden charm, intricately carved with spiraling patterns and painted in bright red hues, dangled from the end of a leather cord. Amy reached for it with her left hand, and for a moment her skin brushed Tenzing's. An unexplainable, unspoken exchange occurred between the two. As the warmth of his hand faded from her cold skin, she dropped Flamberge and placed the Fire Monkey necklace around her neck. As night enclosed the village, she decided that she would trust Tenzing one more time. Just long enough to see her quest to the end.