On a Snowy Night
By: Sir Pargal
The fields were coated white as winter came early to the kingdom of Zebulos and its borderlands. An armored traveler marched over a hill as the downfall of snow continued to collect on the back of his red cloak. At the peak, he stopped sighed unpleasantly, reminding himself of just how much he hated cold weather ever since a bad childhood experience. In the distance he began to see a faint but warm glow. Wondering whether or not he was hallucinating, he lifted his hood and brushed the snow from the tip of his cold nose. At the foot of the hill he could see a small yet warm looking tavern dimly lit from the inside and smiled at the sight.
"Hah! Just what I was hoping for!" The traveler thought, "I would've screamed if I had to walk around out here any longer!"
He hurried down the hillside, and before long found himself at the large wooden door of the tavern. Off to his right he read a sign which read: The Land's Edge. Below it he noticed the symbols for the tavern's food and lodging and the universal symbol for neutrality.
"Good. I was hoping this place wasn't taken in by the hogs!" He thought as he opened the door.
As the wind blew into the tavern not a single soul looked back to greet him, and after struggling to close the door behind him, the young man slowly stepped into the center of the room. Glancing around him he could see various representatives of the diverse groups found on the borderlands. Zebulan merchants, Devotindos foot soldiers, and Gedol scribes were among the first he noticed at the tables around him. One Zebulan man at a bar stool in the back stood out as he looked to find that area the only place left to sit in the room.
He gently closed the door behind him and immediately felt the great warmth of the tavern begin to thaw his nearly frost bitten hands as he shifted in his armor beneath his red cloak he used to conceal his true identity. After taking one last look around for anyone suspicious, he turned his attention back to the Zebulan innkeeper cleaning a glass in his hand. They remained watching each other for a few moments as the traveler continued to get closer to the barstools. At this point his attention turned back to the old Zebulan man slouched over the bar with a glass firmly held in one hand on the table and the other in front of him which he buried his head in. The old dusty brown cape he wore made the traveler curious, and he began to wonder if this man too was traveling in secret. He sat down next to the man and looked down only able to see the single patch of bushy gray hair atop his head.
"Who is this short old guy…?" The traveler thought.
He decided to pay him no further attention and turned his head up towards the innkeeper who greeted him warmly.
"What can I get ya?" The innkeeper asked in a rough and deep voice.
"…I need a room, old man. Just for tonight. I'll be leaving for Zebulos Castle in the morning."
The innkeeper raised an eyebrow at him, and then looked back down at the glass he was cleaning.
"That's an awful lot of ground you have to cover still. Going home for the holidays?"
"Something like that. So do you have a room for me or not?" The traveler asked as if becoming impatient.
The innkeeper cleared his throat before answering, and then looked back down at him.
"Sorry buddy, but I don't have any more rooms tonight. This is a big time a year for the merchants. I'm lucky if I have a single room to spare to anyone. Well, to be honest I did until about an hour ago when this fella next to you took it."
The traveler looked down at the slouched over man, and with an unpleasant grin looked back up to the innkeeper.
"Look, I'm a Zebulan Knight that's been sent out on a surveillance mission. If you let me have a private room in the back I'll double the fee and have the royal family compensate you for your generosity."
"I don't care who you are…" The innkeeper chuckled, "Maybe you didn't hear me. When I said I didn't have a room I meant it, and that includes the private rooms in the back. I don't make special cases for soldiers of any nation. That just gets me into trouble."
"Tch…listen pops, I really don't want to make a big deal out of this, but I'll start shouting if I have to…"
"Are you deaf or something, kid?" The old man next to him said, "He said there's no more rooms. Now get lost."
The traveler looked down at the old man shocked at the response. He looked to find the old man gazing up at him out of one eye with his head still resting over his bent arm.
"Hey, old geezer, I don't remember asking you to get in on this. Go back to sleep!" The traveler snapped.
"Sounded to me like you were about to disturb my little nap anyhow. You young punks are all alike. They give you a sword and all of the sudden you feel like you have the right to boss around just about anyone that says 'no' to you."
"You don't know the half of it, old man, so quit making assumptions!" The traveler said sitting turning towards him, "I'm no foot soldier. In fact without me and the other knights this whole countryside would be burned to the ground. You think anybody would thank us? I can't even get a room out here in this dirty shack after traveling nonstop for three days!"
"Poor baby…" The old man mocked, "Bet you've never had to walk for a week through a mountain pass like I have. Go do that and come back complaining about your three days through a level field!"
"As a matter of fact I have, and I doubt a decrepit old man like you would have the strength to do it again!" He replied bitterly.
The old main rose up and looked the traveler in the face eye-to-eye at last. Suddenly the traveler noticed something strange in his eyes. Something very familiar. His anger vanished for that very instant.
"With those short little stubs you call legs!? Nobody could get very far like that! Hah!" The old man laughed.
The traveler's anger returned instantly, and he growled in the man's face.
"You're no giant either, you scrunched-up old fur ball!"
At that they both stood up from their seats and began exchanging unpleasant faces back and forth. Various inn guests began to turn their heads towards them as they began to attract attention to themselves. The innkeeper cleared his throat again.
"You're startin to upset people. Keep it up and I'll have the both of you thrown out of here. I'm sure there's plenty of others that want that room."
"Forget it…he wouldn't have left me alone till I gave it to him anyway! Listen innkeeper, I'll leave you in peace if you let me sleep out back. I saw you're doing a bit of construction back there so I was thinking I'd seek shelter under there for the night."
The traveler became shocked by this, and he looked back to the innkeeper as the old man threw his room key back on the table and started walking out. He gazed back at him as he began leaving. All of the guests watched as he slowly walked away not glancing back once.
"H…Hey! Wait a sec! Old man!" The traveler called to him, but received no response as the old man slammed the door of the inn behind him violently.
"Well, if he gave it up to you, go ahead and use it. I hope you're happy…" The innkeeper said tossing him the room key.
The commotion died down, and everyone went back about their business. Except the traveler, who thought back to the old man, still feeling a sense of familiarity about him. Then he remembered what had just happened.
"That stubborn old bastard…!" He thought, "I'm not gonna let him make a fool out of me!"
"Where are you going?" The innkeeper asked as he saw the traveler begin to walk towards the door.
"…That...stubborn old fool! I'll be right back!" He replied as he marched outside.
Upon leaving the warm tavern he immediately felt the strong chilling winds wrap around his body. Even the thick plating of his armor was no match for the harshness of the country weather. He took the side of his cloak and raised it to his face before looking around. As he looked off to his left he noticed newly made footprints in the snow leading to the back of the tavern. Glancing towards them, he looked to find a somewhat sturdy looking tower structure that was being constructed onto the tavern, but it looked as if the construction was halted due to the winter weather. He was certain that was where the old man had gone, and began walking towards it. Barely able to see in front of him, he began to think of the old man again and his pale eyes that he found so strange and yet so familiar.
"Who the hell is that guy…?" The traveler wondered as he marched into the tower.
Upon entering the sounds of the wind began to muffle against the sturdy stone walls, and he removed the cloak from around his face to look around. A few piles of lumber, and a frozen wheelbarrow were all that seemed to fill the tower. He looked up to find the wooden scaffolds still in place extending up to the top of the tower. Unable to find the old man, he sighed, and turned around to walk out through the open wall he entered through. He suddenly felt a chilling sensation in the back of his head just as he was about to turn around. An instinct he had acquired that never seemed to fail. As he turned around it was confirmed as he saw a Devotindos officer in a long green coat and officer's hat standing before him at the entry with a smile.
"It's been five days since we were last able to track you. It seems we were lucky enough to find you before you reached the other side of the border, Sparkster." He said with a grin.
Four guards emerged from the sides of the tower and formed a line behind the Commander. They removed the swords from their sides and waited patiently for their order to strike.
"Don't you guys have anything better to do than chase me around? I don't have time to play around with you guys."
"Yes, I'm sure you'd like to visit your lovely princess. It is the holidays after all. I wouldn't mind a promotion during such a cheery time of the year, and I think turning you in to the emperor is just what I need to obtain one."
Sparkster looked to the guards behind him and then closed his eyes and starting chuckling.
"You plan on taking me in with the help of these guys? Must not of heard the stories from your buddies, have you?"
"To be quite honest, I had no intention of capturing you with only this much manpower. However if you decide not to come quietly, I'll just have to signal my guards stationed in front of the tavern to burn it to the ground. Of course having it so close on the border, I'm sure most will be quite displeased when they hear how the Zebulos knights pillaged this fine establishment. It will surely cause quite a political stir, don't you agree?" He laughed.
"You bastard!" Sparkster cried.
He began to hear footsteps above him on the scaffolds above him, and looked up to find three more guards positioned and pointing rifles down at him. Caught in a dangerous situation, Sparkster began to contemplate his next move as the Devotindos Commander continued laughing. Suddenly his laugher was broke by a loud growl that came from above. One of the riflemen positioned on a scaffold heard it startlingly close by, and he quickly turned behind him to find the gruff looking old man sit up from underneath an old cover. He rubbed his short grey whiskers and looked up at the confused rifleman as if upset. They exchanged stares, when the old man suddenly shot up with a bitter look and placed his hand behind his head. Pushing the hood of his cloak back he revealed a sword mounted firmly against his back.
"I REALLY hate it when I cant sleep comfortably, but when a bunch of military flunkies wont even give me peace out here in a dump like this, that's when it REALLY pisses me off!"
The angered old man began to make the rifleman feel on edge, and with both hands he began to thrust the rifle towards him. Swiftly, the old man evaded and shoved his elbow into the rifleman's abdomen. Everyone watched shocked by the old man's swift movement. He then gently shoved him off the scaffold and the rifleman fell a few feet down until smacking into a wooden beam where he remained unconscious. The old man looked down at the officer and smiled.
"You know, you guys really make me sick. Picking on an amateur that falls into an obvious trap like this one. Why don't you pay attention, kid? You might learn a few things…"
"AMA-AMATEUR!?" Sparkster blurted in outrage.
Ripping the sword from his back, the old man tossed the scabbard in front of him and leaped off the side of the scaffold high atop the other two rifle men. He quickly leaped off the sides of the tower walls and came crashing down atop one of them, knocking off and onto the snowy ground at the foot of the tower. The other panicked, and attempted to position his rifle as the man leaped towards him. He pulled the trigger, only to find that he was too late as he hit the wall beneath him as he began to fall off balance from the strike. The man then leaped down on the ground, and just in time to grasp the scabbard from its freefall he had released at the top which his quickly used to sheath his sword and placed it at his side..
The Devotindos guards and Sparkster watched this in awe.
"W…What!?" The Devotindos Commander blurted out with a surprised look.
"He's good…!" Sparkster thought as he stared at the confident looking old man with his sword in hand.
"That's no ordinary sword…!" One of the guards said with a quiver.
"Idiots! He's just an old man! Spread out and restrain them both!"
"Yeah, OLD MAN…why don't you just stay behind me and let me handle it. I don't want you to break a hip or anything." Sparkster said with a smirk.
"You DO know I'm going to kill you when this is over, don't you!?" The old man snapped back while keeping his guard high.
"Sure, sure, let's just see if you can keep up with me! I can't believe you guys followed me all the way out here. I was planning on relaxing for the rest of the night until you had to go and ruin it…now you'll regret it!"
Two guards dashed off to the left and attacked the old swordsman; the other two ran towards Sparkster head-on. Both of them became angered at their persistence to continue fighting but kept their focus. The first guard came at Sparkster and quickly swiped his sword off to the side which Sparkster leaped to the left to avoid, only to be greeted by the second guard which made a clean strike across and nicked the tip of his left ear. The swift dash to avoid this sent him crashing into the snow. He grinned back at them and placed his glove to the bleeding end of his ear.
"They're not from the regular army…" He thought jumping back to his feet and diving back into the skirmish.
The old man was quickly thrown into battle alongside him, as they darted at him quickly not giving him the slightest bit of advantage regardless of his age. Taking initiative, the first guard raised his sword over his head and slashed downward fiercely directly in front of him which the old man quickly stepped to the left to avoid. He quickly shifted his attention to his right and noticed the other guard running towards him with this sword thrown over his shoulder ready to strike. The Guard made a swift horizontal slash at chest-length of the old man, who evaded by ducking beneath the swing only to quickly get back to his feet and swing his hilt around the guard. Striking a powerful hit with the end of his sword, he sent the second guard flying forward into the first as they crashed to the ground. He then turned his attention to how Sparkster was handling the situation, and found it quite surprising that the one he mocked as a simple sword swinging boy had already knocked one of his guards out and was playing with the other, as the guard struggled to land a hit to the constantly dodging Sparkster. The first guard quickly became enraged and charged forward in a thrust towards the old man. He remained perfectly still until at arms length and then threw his fist into the guard's snout, sending him skidding across the snow leaving a thin red line in front of him.
Confident that the guards would cease, he looked to Sparkster with a smile to find him still fending off the second guard, and looked startled as the first guard behind him that appeared unconscious had been waiting in secret for a chance to strike. The old man's jaw dropped that instant as he began running towards Sparkster while removing his sword from its sheath again. Dropping the scabbard to the floor he raised the sword with both hands behind him. Sparkster began to notice this and looked to him confused. As he quickly turned around he noticed the guard awake and charging towards him. He panicked, and froze in the moment, unable to lift his sword. The Devotindos officer smiled at imminent victory that no other Commander in his ranks had ever been able to accomplish. It immediately turned to a frown as the old man quickly dashed between them and locked swords in a cross guard. The tension between them would not cease, as Sparkster looked to the blade which saved his life. He then noticed something peculiar about it as five runic symbols began glowing an ominous green on the blade.
The guard before him began to notice it too, as well as the officer standing a short distance away.
"That's….!!" The officer said unable to speak, "…retreat!"
In the confusion of the moment, the guards dropped their weapons to follow their Commander who was already a good distance away shouting to his troops stationed in front of the inn to retreat as well. Sparkster watched them leave and breathed a heavy sigh, and then looked back to the old man to find that he had quickly retracted his sword and already began placing it on his back. He looked back to him amazed.
"You…!?" Sparkster simply said.
"…What?" The old man replied looking at him peculiarly, "You wish to fight me even after I saved your skin, kid?"
Sparkster's mind instantly became flooded with questions for the mysterious old man. So many that he shook his head and tried to say focused.
"N…no!" He said, "How did you? Where did you get…?"
"You mean the sword?" The old man said.
"Not just that! Your swordsmanship is something only I'm supposed to know in this country! Where did you learn how to fight like that!?"
The old man gave him a blank stare, and then looked to a snow patch on the ground as if thinking for a moment before smiling and looking back to Sparkster.
"Actually I'm kind of interested to know how you did some of the stuff you did. I thought I was the only person that knew how to do that in this country too. In all my days of travel, you're the first person I've ever come across that knew how to do that. If you want, we can talk out here."
"Nah…" Sparkster said, "Why don't we just go to that room you gave me? I couldn't leave you out here."
"I thought you'd never suggest it!" The old man said happily, "I can't believe I had to save your life before you'd just agree to share the place!"
"Hey! YOU'RE the one that ran off in a hurry! I came out here to do that in the first place! If I hadn't of, this whole mess probably wouldn't of happened!"
"That's just the kind of mentality I'd expect from an overconfident green cadet!" The old man said marching towards the inn.
"I'm not a cadet!" Sparkster yelled stopping in his tracks, brimming with bitterness caused by the old man's tongue
He then tried to calm himself, remembering that the man had indeed saved his life and that he still had many questions to ask.
"Hey…old man…" He called to him getting him to stop for a moment, "…thanks."
The old man did not turn around, but smiled and then continued walking.
"Heh…well maybe you're not so bad after all." He said making Sparkster have an overall better outlook of the old swordsman as they walked towards the doorway, "Even if your form is completely lacking…!"
Sparkster nearly fell over after hearing the man's conclusive statement, and struggled to overcome the urge to attack him when he wasn't expecting it and put an end to his cocky opinions once and for all.
"Either this guy's going to kill me, or I'm going to kill him!" Sparkster thought, "He better have some good answers…and that sword. That's just like yours, dad. I have to find out what he's doing with it. He's obviously not from Haruk."
The Devotindos Commander had just finished scaling the last hill when he came across a camp site hiding in the bottom of a valley not far from the inn. He quickly tried to catch his breath before running down the hill, only to lose his balance and slide the rest of the way down on his back. Quickly picking himself up he continued to run into the quiet camp while the soldiers had already long retired for the night. Turning the corner around a tent he ran face first into the cold metallic leg of a giant siege robot which startled him at first, and then continued to hurry on towards a large, well lit tent in the back of the campsite. He appeared before the entrance where he was met by two guards dressed in full armor grasping halberds at their sides. The guard to the left of him gazed down at him with his left eye as the other remained shut with a large scar across his eyelid implying a nasty war injury. Looking at the Commander's rank decorations on the front of his coat, he then looked back to him.
"What do you want here, Commander?" He asked in a deep tone.
"Let me speak with Major Ferin, immediately!" The Commander demanded.
"For what reason?" The guard asked.
"Tell him…! I found the blade that matches the description of the one he was looking for!"
At hearing this, the guard's eye opened widely and he grabbed the Commander by the collar and lifted him up.
"You had better not be lying! Lord Ferin will see to it that you never see daylight again if you are!" He warned.
"I'm not! Please, let me see him!"
The guard released him, and then looked to the other guard beside him. He looked to him as if to ask something, and the other replied with a smirk and simply shrugged his shoulders.
"Very well, you may enter." The guard said lifting the flap of the tent open, "Walk to the end of the tent, and do not disturb the other officers in their quarters as you walk by. When you reach Lord Ferin's quarters ask the attendant to summon him."
The Commander nodded, and walked down towards the last room at the very end. Along the sides he heard the other officers still awake. Some laughing cheerfully as they continued to consume ample amounts of spirits, others bickering amongst each other and complaining for having been stationed out in the middle of nowhere around the holidays. At last the Commander reached the last chamber and lifted the flap to enter. A Devotindos cadet was sitting there to greet him. He quickly hurried over to him.
"Boy, go bring your master here." The Commander instructed.
"…Yes sir." The boy replied without any hesitation as he quickly ran out behind him.
The Commander began to pace the room, sure that he was going to be well rewarded for his find and awaited praise and compliments from the Major. As he glanced around he noticed the unit's insignia on the wall. A grey shield crest with a navy stripe across it symbolized the unit's affiliation, but he noticed something odd about the figure. Two of the starts across the navy banner had been scratched out, as if on purpose by someone's knife. Before he could ponder it any further, the Major entered behind him. He quickly turned around and saluted as the Major walked past him giving him no attention. He threw a paper scroll next to him as he sat in his chair before the Commander.
"What do you want, officer of the Green Banner? I hope this is important…" Ferin said.
"Of course, you see, I believed I've found something you were looking for, Major. Something you told my superiors you have been looking for now for a long time. I believe I found someone wielding a sword much like the one you described to them."
Ferin got up from his chair immediately and hurried over to the Commander, startling him half to death.
"You've seen it!?" Ferin asked surprised, "Where is it!? Where is this person, and who is he!?"
"I…it's in the possession of an old Zebulan man that's taken up refuge at an inn here along the border only an hours march from here. The Rocket Knight Sparkster is with him as well." The Commander replied somewhat frightened by Ferin's erratic behavior.
"…For so long I've been waiting to reclaim my Gray Banner's honor. As long as it's not him…" Ferin Said thinking of a bold warrior from his past, "No…he's dead. I saw it with my own eyes, it can't be him!"
"Major?" The Commander asked as he watched Ferin get swept up in thought.
"Come!" Ferin exclaimed with excitement as he quickly looked to the Commander, "We leave immediately!"
"Very good, Lord Ferin, so I guess I'll be taking my leave then…?" The Commander asked waiting to be offered a generous reward.
Major Ferin looked to him with haunting eyes, and then chuckled.
"Why would you wish to leave now?" He asked, "Since you brought me this information, I'll grant you the opportunity to capture both the blade and Sparkster. Bringing such trophies to the Emperor will please him greatly. If you contribute in handling the task, he will make you a General and assign you your own order of knights! Does that sound fitting?"
The Commander had not considered such a thing before, but grinned pleasantly at the thought of being honored by the Emperor himself. He looked back to the Major with a smile.
"Thank you, Lord Ferin! I think I'll do just that."
"Very well. Wait outside for further instructions while I gather the men. This will be a great year for the Devontindos Empire, and more importantly us." He said.
The Commander laughed sinisterly as he left the tent. Just as the Major was about to follow him, he looked at the wall of the tent to find the same insignia the Commander was looking at moments before. It was an image that stood for everything he served under, the crest of the Gray Banner Knights, shamed twice by their former Commander.
He detested looking at it ever since.
"Today I will restore the honor you deprived us of, you fool. Tonight I'll carry the burden you were too weak to carry out to the end."
After they settled in their room, the old man retired to an old wooden white chair next to the window in the center of the far wall in the small room beside the bed which rested on the adjacent wall. He continued staring out the window and watched the snow continue to fall as if looking for something. Suddenly the silence in the room was broken as the door was kicked open by Sparkster carrying a heavy iron bucket of coal rocks into the room and slamming the door behind him. He nudged the bucket over by the fireplace across from the old man with his boot and then sat in a chair beside it facing him.
"I figured we might need this if we're going to be here all night. The innkeeper said it's on the house since we got rid of the Devotindos."
"Good, I didn't plan on freezing to death here tonight. You probably make an excellent squire, bringing provisions to yours superior's rooms and whatnot."
"I'M NOT A SQUIRE!" Sparkster yelled, "In fact I can probably do everything you can and more!"
The old man huffed and stopped gazing out the window to turn his attention to Sparkster. Again those same eyes caught his attention, and again they seemed even more familiar this time than they did the last.
"What are you staring at!?" The old man bitterly asked.
"Nothing…!" Sparkster replied quickly shifting his stare to the floor off to the side, "Hey, wait a sec! There's a lot of strange things you know about, old man! Start talking!" Sparkster commanded.
"Hmph…they can't be all that strange and secret if a young punk like you knows them…that kind of disappoints me." He replied.
"You really don't have any idea, do you!? That style's older than old, and it's been kept secret for a long time! The only ones that knew anything about it here in Zebulos were the Sanjulo knights!"
"The Sanjulo knights? I've heard of them, but I've never met em!" The old man replied, "Then again, I don't really know if I haven't…"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"…A long time ago, I…I lost my memory. The first thing I can remember is being washed ashore on the bank of a stream in the mountains near Wolfen where the children from a nearby home rescued me. I was badly hurt…had a lot of injuries caused by weapons too, but they said they found this sword next to me." He said picking it up from its resting place next to his chair.
"That can't be..." Sparkster thought, "That sword has to be from Haruk. How did he get a hold of that?"
"I didn't know what happened…" The old man said continuing, "The woman living in the mountain home told me that I was probably involved in a big border battle that happened a few days earlier from then, and said that I was probably a soldier for Zebulos. I wasn't sure what I was, to tell you the truth. I didn't have any money on me, and they were struggling enough as it is, so I didn't stay with them very long. They gave me some dry clothes and I took the sword as my only possession to start looking for some answers and try to piece my life back together."
"You wound up on the opposite side of the border, huh? Must've been tough…" Sparkster said.
"Hah…I'm lucky to still be alive!" The old man admitted, "I found that the Devotindos occupied areas didn't like Zebulans too much. Just my luck I guess. I couldn't even get anyone to sell me bread in the streets. Occasionally I'd get attacked if I slept out in the open. At one point I was so desperate I traveled to an outlying village and attempted to trade my sword for bread."
"What!?" Sparkster gasped.
"Of course, I was surprised when the old lady selling the bread told me never to give that sword away. She said that it was a special foreign weapon of legendary quality, and that it would bring me luck if I kept it. Then she told me never to give it up to anyone and then disappeared. Sure, I didn't believe her then, but now I really do think this sword's lucky being that I'm still alive. After that, the next morning I was ambushed in the woods and when I came to I found myself in the dusty Devotindos coal mines. My sword was gone, and as mad as I was, with time I slowly began to forget about it. I labored for months with other captured wanderers like myself from all over the place. Slowly I began to realize I was going nowhere. I didn't even know my own name, and now I didn't even have an identity. So I started throwing a fit, and the bastards threw me out of the mines and into an iron smithy. Day in and day out they destroyed old swords in large smelting pots to re-forge them. You couldn't go much lower than that, because if you complained down there, they'd just throw you in one of the smelters. As I was passing the old, useless swords down the line, I came across a miracle. There was my sword being passed down the line. Some would stop to look at it, wondering why it was being melted down, and I knew it was somehow there to serve another reason. As soon as it was passed to me, I cut the chains on my ankles and used this weapon for the first time, and I REALLY used it. Before I knew what happened, I had put down about thirty guards. Wasn't sure how I got so good at it, but it was like I always knew how to use that weapon. The other prisoners quickly helped each other out of the mines, and I figured I'd tag along. We ran across into the safer Wolfen territory, where I worked as a mercenary for hire up until a few years ago. Slowly but surely I started to remember the sword techniques I had forgotten, and my skill grew to what it is today. It made me decent money, and soon I had enough to buy me a pass back into Zebulos where people said I had the best chance at finding out where I came from."
"So what happened?" Sparkster asked curiously, "Did you ever find out where you came from?"
"Not really. I searched in and out of this country a few times now, but most of my leads seemed to come from the borders, so I've been roaming around here for the past few months. One fella I came across said he thought he saw me in the Zebulan front-lines a long time ago, another said I was a special recruit for the Zebulan army that lived in Duskglade. None of it was very familiar. Finally, an old man sitting on the steps of a tavern in a town a few days from here told me that I used to live in a border town with my wife and was a messenger for the army. I ran as quickly as I could to that town without sleep for several days. When I arrived I found something odd. The town had been leveled and construction sites were erected. When I asked, they said the town had burned down a few years before in a village raid, and that there were only a few survivors."
"Figures…" Sparkster added, "The border towns were always in chaos around that time."
"I didn't know where else to turn. No one knew of me, or who my wife might have been, so I simply left. This is how I've spent this time of year ever since. In places like this, hoping that the next year will turn up something good."
"Hey, I'm going to the capitol. Why don't you come with me? You might be able to find something on record there. If not, most people that abandoned their border villages go there to live anyway."
"…The capitol? That's the one place I won't go. It's so big; I'd never be able to find anything there."
"The castle isn't like the Devotindos capitol. People would try to help you if you go to the right places. I know because I've lived there almost my entire life after those Devotindos bastards burned my village to the ground and killed my parents. I was fortunate though."
"Oh? How's that…?"
"The man who rescued me was Mifune Sanjulo. He took me in and taught me everything I know."
The old man looked to him when he heard this surprised, and then began laughing out loud. Sparkster looked to him puzzled as he started to become angered by this.
"What's so funny!?" Sparkster asked.
"It's nice for kids to have dreams I guess, but come on and be realistic. There's no way that's true. That name struck fear into everyone on the opposite side of the border. He's impressive, sure, but I don't think a guy like him would've wasted his time on YOU!" He said continuing to laugh.
The old man quickly felt the cold end of Sparkster's sword pressing into his neck. He looked down at the bitter young man and stopped laughing.
"You don't know anything about Mifune! He brought me up as his own son, and taught me all of the things you know! That's why you have to tell me! How did you learn how to fight like us!?" He demanded taking the sword away.
"I already told you…" The old man huffed, "I don't remember. I'd tell you if I knew, honestly, but I really don't know. All I know is that no one's ever been able to beat me so far in all of my encounters as a mercenary, and that tells me I know something that shouldn't be spread around…"
Suddenly the room began to give off slight vibrations, and then began to shake. The old man looked out the window and saw two large Devotindos battle robots lead by a large group of soldiers heading towards the inn over the hill.
"Great…I knew they'd be back. This is my fault; I shouldn't of let them see the sword…"
"I think I'm the one more at fault here. The Devotindos are after me because I'm a Commander in the Rocket Knights…"
The old man stopped upon hearing this, and then laughed to himself.
"Yeah, sure if you say so…" The old man replied jokingly.
This perked up Sparkster's anger immediately, but he had no choice but to ignore it as they both hurried down to the stairs. As they passed by the innkeeper he looked to them.
"This had better not be related to something you did. If they damage this inn, I want the both of you out even if you survive."
They heeded the warning and continued out into the blizzard to meet the Devotindos knights head-on. The old man peered over the impending forces at the foot of the hill and noticed something strange.
"Well then, I guess we should just throw ourselves into this. I doubt they're gonna just leave if they want the both of us."
"They're not gonna leave, but I doubt if that's all they plan to throw at us, kid."
"What do you mean?"
"This unit's different from the one that we fought earlier. All Commanders usually sit in the back of the unit and bark out orders. All I see up there is the Commander from the previous bunch."
"So what are we supposed to do about it?"
"Just stay on your toes. I don't wanna have to save your temperamental hide again."
"Who's temperamental, you scrawny old has-been!?" Sparkster said unable to contain himself any longer.
The old man looked back to him, and without warning grasped his gloves around Sparkster's neck and tackled him to the ground, where he sat over him strangling the life out of him for the insult.
The Devotindos suddenly halted, and the Commander looked to this confused.
"Hah, the rats fight amongst themselves!" He laughed, "This is a perfect opportunity! Grab them!"
Realizing they were about to be trampled, the old man released his grip and allowed Sparkster to return to his feet. Sparkster stepped forward and placed his hand to his sword on his back.
"CADET…huh!? I'll show you who's more of a cadet!" He said to the old man rushing forward.
At that Sparkster charged into one of the large battle robots on his left. The metal giant pounded his fist down into the snow, and Sparkster removed his sword, dashed around it, and sank his blade deep into the elbow joint of the massive robot. The arm quickly snapped off as he ran up the remaining portion of the arm and leaped into the cockpit, knocking the pilot off onto the snow beneath and shifting the weight of the robot downward causing it to collapse. He then looked back to the old man with a confident grin as he started charging towards the groups of soldiers.
"How was that for a cadet!?" He called to him.
The old man said nothing as the other robot approached him. He ran towards it drawing his sword as the mechanical monster raised his arm to strike him a deadly blow. The old man too leaped forward towards it and slashed downward, making a clean diagonal cut about its torso. He landed on the ground with his sword brandished before him his boots caused him to skid across the ground for a few moments just as the robot cut in with that one clean strike.
The entire army was in awe, including Sparkster for a few seconds, before they began to cower in his presence. Even the Green Banner Commander himself had not seen him display such skill before.
"Showoff…" Sparkster thought to himself.
"W…who is that guy?" One of the soldiers blurted out.
"He fights like Mifune Sanjulo!" Another said.
"…Enough!" The Commander shouted to them, "You're Gray Banner Knights! Try to show some courage!"
"Gray Banner?" The old man spoke, "That sounds familiar…"
Before he could give it any further thought he was charged by a group of soldiers. Sparkster too had an ample amount to deal with. One by one they cut down the forces, and the old man could feel his sword begin to feel warm to the touch. Something, he sensed, was not right. Sparkster and the old man occasionally checked each other to find that their techniques were remarkably similar, and Sparkster continued to wonder how this old man knew all of the techniques he thought could only found in Mifune's old family journal.
"They're fighting almost identically; we can't keep this up!" A soldier told the Commander, "Where's the Major!?"
"Idiot!" The Commander scolded, "This is a chance to reclaim what was taken from you by Zebulos! Don't let it slip from your grasp!"
The old man had just finished kicking the last soldier from his sword when he heard a sincere voice from behind him.
"You, bearer of the wind blade from Haruk!" The voice called, "I, Major Ferin of the Gray Banner Knights am your opponent!"
The old man looked to find him standing atop the nearly constructed tower behind the inn with his sword drawn. He looked back to Sparkster.
"Alright kid, here's your chance to prove to me you're everything you say you are."
"I don't have to prove anything to you, old man!" He replied, "If they're afraid of you, they'll be ten times more afraid of me when I get done with them! Just be careful around that guy…"
"I will." He said running back towards the inn.
The guards began to form around Sparkster as he grinned back at them.
"So who's first here!?" He said to them with his sword pointed in their direction.
Major Ferin stood atop the tower gazing out at the snowy hills before him, remembering the last time he had seen the wind blade.
"So many years since those swords ruined the reputation of my unit. I'll not fail my men like 'he' did." Ferin thought.
He heard footsteps in the snow behind him and turned around to greet the old man. Something about him caused a chill to run down his spine. At first he thought the man was someone from his past, but he quickly shook that fear off, sure that the man from his memories was dead.
"I don't know how you obtained that weapon, but if you wish to live you had better turn it over to me, Zebulan. I'm the last of those that has seen its destructive power first-hand. I will have it, and I've prepared ever since the fated day it crushed the honor of my knights to conquer it. Be ready, old man. I'll not make it easy if you resist me." He said grasping the heavy broadsword he wielded with both hands in a reverse grip and throwing it to his side in a horizontal position.
He wound the sword behind him and bent his knees preparing for a swift strike. The old man looked down from the top of the tower and smiled.
"You're really going to go all out for this, aren't you? Using a style like that…totally offensive. Well, just don't be upset in your final moments if I end up killing you." He said grasping his sword in both hands and placing it in front of him.
"There it is…" Ferin said marveling over the sword, "Without a doubt, it's no fake like the one Mifune Sanjulo wielded."
"What's that mean?" The old man asked.
"Nothing you need be concerned about, old man. Right now you should be more concerned about keeping your life!"
Ferin charged forward swiped his sword upward towards the old man's head. He quickly stepped back to avoid taking the blow, and was quickly surprised as the Major swiftly spun around for another quick slash. Dashing to the side, he attempted to evade the hit and was successful as he skidded across the rooftop and finally came to rest after supporting himself back up with his hand. As he rose to his feet, he noticed spackles of blood on the ground at his feet, and looked to his side to find that the blade had in fact grazed him along his right side.
"Shit…" He thought holding his side as it began to sting mildly.
"You may have the superior weapon, old soldier, but this is something I've prepared for now for a long time, and with the original wielders dead and gone no one is capable of stopping me from obtaining it!" Ferin laughed.
"…You said you're Ferin? That name's familiar…" The old man spoke.
"Talk won't buy you any time!" Ferin said running towards him.
The old man gritted his teeth and held his sword tightly as it began to feel warm again. One of the glyphs on the blade began to glow as he raised the sword in his defense. Ferin swung down upon it with great force, echoing out a loud clashing of steel. The old man finally summoned the strength to break the struggle and raised the sword up again, bringing it down over Ferin's right shoulder plating. His armor parted instantly as blood began to trickle from between the crack in the plating. He stepped away to examine the hit.
"That was no lucky strike. I've never seen anyone inflict that kind of damage before to a Knight of the Banners before except…!!" Ferin thought.
"You! What is your name!? Tell me! Were you at the battle of the divided border all those years ago!?"
"It was you! You were with Despote, and that other warrior from Haruk! I remember you! You're supposed to be DEAD! I saw it with my own eyes! How are you still alive!? Speak!" He said coming towards the old man in rage.
"I don't know what you're talking about, but the name Despote rings a bell! If you know something I'll just have to beat it out of you!" He said as two more glyphs began to glow on his sword.
Ferin swung down which the old man hastily evaded, and then knocked him to the ground with the back of his fist. Grabbing him by the collar plate of his armor, he began shaking the downed Ferin violently.
"Do you know who I am? Tell me!" He asked.
Before he received an answer, Ferin kicked the old man off of his chest and lifted his heavy sword around for another attack.
"You…are the bastard that that caused my unit further disgrace that carries on to this day. Only when I give the king the sacred blade from the foreign land of Haruk will we truly be able to regain our greatness!" He said staring into the same confident eyes he remembered from all those years ago.
Unsure by what he meant, the old man continued to dash head-on towards the Major. They struck swords again as they ran past each other and came to a stop on the opposite ends of the roof.
"Wait…Despote…? Commander….Despote of the Gray Banner Knights…?" The old man thought hearing that name all too familiar.
Suddenly it struck him, and a number of images began to flood his mind. His stand off with the Devotindos Commander that went by the name of Despote on the bridge before the waterfall, and the dark hair and cold deep eyes from the image of the strange foreign warrior that accompanied him that day. Then he recalled what had happened that day, and stood before Ferin with a new found fit of rage. Remaining focused he gripped the sword at his side tensely.
"I've had enough of this! Too long have I waited for vengeance! You die now!" Ferin said stepping forward with his sword at his side preparing to administer the decisive strike.
"Vengeance!? You want vengeance after what you and your knights have done!? I'll kill you!" The old man shouted.
Sparkster ran up to the tower and looked up to find them atop the tower engaged in intense battle. He watches as they began to charge towards each other and held his breath.
A thousand thoughts flew through both of their minds as their blades drew nearer. The wet snow did little to cease their charging as they prepared for the worst. Ferin raised the sword slightly above his chest preparing to swipe the old man's head off in one clean strike. The old man thrust his sword upward towards the Major.
Sparkster could see nothing, but heard the loud crashing of steel into steel, and then was startled as he saw the Devotindos Commander flying through the air with a terrified look on his face as he was staring down at the old man's sword that ran him through. The old man kicked the sword out from Ferin's chest as he flew back onto the tower, while Ferin continued off the side to his death. In his left hand Sparkster noticed a green flame surrounding the old man's sword. Completely overcome by the incident, the old man became dizzy as he broke through the weak wooden boards atop the roof and began his freefall through the tower. Sparkster noticed his and quickly ran inside the tower. As the old man fell he could remember familiar faces again, and remembered two important people, as well as a third he was almost sure he would never see again.
"Kara…Nodin…I'm so sorry…" He spoke quietly to himself as the sword's flame extinguished and the blade shattered in his hand.
Continuing to fall, Sparkster quickly threw his hands out and managed to grab the old man in freefall. He stumbled over, and was lucky enough to break the fall as he smacked head down into the old man and passed out.
When he came to, he was alone in the tower. He looked up to find that the hole in the ceiling was still there, confirming that the events that passed were not simply a dream. He shook his head and brushed the snow off his ears, and then walked out to the front of the inn. Gazing out in front of him, he caught a glimpse of the old man holding his side with one hand and the broken blade in the other. He walked over to him and breathed a sigh.
"Sorry…" The old man apologized, "I didn't want to wake you up, kid. You seemed to be having a nice little nap there."
"I guess there was more between you and that Devotindos knight than you thought, huh pops?"
"Yeah…there was. I can remember that much, but after I fell I can't make much of anything again. I doubt that innkeeper will let us back in after what just happened to his tower. I took care of all of the bodies, but that probably won't satisfy him."
"I told you I wasn't just some rookie, old man! Like I said, I'm a Rocket Knight!"
"I know who you are, Sparkster." He said with a smile, "I've heard of you, but to be honest I just didn't think we looked so much alike. That must be why I've gotten into so many unnecessary fights."
"You've probably gotten into so many unnecessary fights because of your tongue, old man! But listen, if you want to, I'd be glad to have you tag along with me to the castle. There's a few more things I'd like to ask you."
"Maybe I'll visit you in the capitol soon enough. Right now I just remembered I promised an old friend I'd take care of something for him…regardless, I'd be interested in meeting your old man if he really IS Mifune Sanjulo."
"…Well, you're gonna have to wait a little longer to see him then. He's serving another kingdom now. Maybe if we ran into each other two years earlier, it would've been different."
"I see. Sorry to hear that…regardless I'll stop in the capitol eventually." He said eyeing Sparkster one last time, "Did you even find out what happened to your real parents?"
"Why do you care to know?" Sparkster asked curiously.
"I just…just curious, really. Unless it offends you?"
"No…when Mifune found me in the village, my mother had died, but I don't know what happened to my real dad."
The old man began to piece his story together with Sparkster's, and began to wonder if they were somehow related.
"Could it be…?" The old man thought, "…Nah…there's no way…or is there?"
He turned around and smiled at Sparkster.
"Well...wherever or whoever your real father is, Sparkster...I'm sure he'd be very proud of you..."
"Thanks…old man." Sparkster replied, as he too started thinking of similar possibilities.
"I guess I should be going. You probably have loved ones you wish to share the next few days with. I should probably let you be going."
"Hey, wait! What are you going to do with that sword?" Sparkster asked.
The old man paused for a moment gazed upon the broken blade for a moment, and then looked back to him.
"It's served its purpose. I don't think I'll be needing something like it for a while now anyways." He said starting to walk away.
"Old man, don't forget to take me up on my offer! If you come, there's a friend of my dads that might be able to tell you more about yourself…even if I don't really like her too much, if she can help you I'd be glad to put up with her!"
The old man nodded with a smile and continued along his way. Sparkster too parted in the opposite direction of the old man heading straight for the capitol.
"At first, I didn't think I'd take him up on his offer." The old man thought, "But that guy sure is interesting…maybe it's better off if I follow him around for a while…"
"What a strange old man…" Sparkster thought, "But there's something really familiar about him…like I've seen him before a long time ago. That can't be! Who knows…maybe with a little time; it'll all come back to the both of us, though."
With that Sparkster continued over the snowy hilltops again with little sleep, as the thought of seeing all of his friends gathered at Zebulos Castle once again enticed him onward.
Seasons Greetings from Sir Pargal, and may tomorrow bring us all pleasant journeys. I hope you enjoyed my little gift, and thanks for taking the time read it.