It was far too big to be called a sword.

Too heavy, too thick, and far too rough, it was more like a heap of raw iron...

It had its own beauty, in a way. Looking at it while it was still, or being carried on its owner's back, you couldn't really appreciate it. It was just a piece of metal, far too massive for any practical use.

But when it was in motion...

Well. That was a different matter.


The first bandit lost his head, from the jaw up.


As the tall man caught the blade in his ribs, and they splintered as it ground through, spraying a tidal wave of red on the third bandit...


As the last one tried to dodge right, and ended up catching the line of the swing on his side, and losing a diagonal chunk which included his arm, and the left side of his face.

And the sword stopped. The immense blade, with all of its momentum focused on cutting LEFT, stopped.


And then arced RIGHT.

And the brigand in light armor, with the two knives... The one who had hung back, and leaped at the Swordsman in midswing, planning to get inside his reach and take him apart...


He didn't have a second to scream, before the sword caught him at the hip, and tore through his body like a bolt from a ballista, scattering his entrails across the dirt.

Leaving one, one with a crossbow, the first one that had demanded money, and the girl, and then let loose his men when the traveller had only smiled.

One man, wondering how his brothers had died, in less time than it takes to draw in a breath.

The swordsman looked up, and his teeth were tight in a grin, his single eye staring with the pupil a pinpoint. Then he charged. Sword out in front of him, a wordless cry bellowing from his lungs, he charged…

The crossbow bolt took him in the side, he barely noticed, focusing everything he had in reaching the bandit, getting there before the bandit could finish cranking the crossbow up again, and bringing the sword around one. More. Time.

At the last second, the man dropped the crossbow and tried to flee. Five seconds too late.


And then there was nothing.

The swordsman leaned on his blade, panting slightly. One hand reached to the seam in the armor where the crossbow bolt had slipped through, and pulled. There was a spurt of blood, and he gritted his teeth for a second, then the bolt was out. He snapped it between his fingers, considered it with his single remaining eye, and dropped it on the remains of the last bandit.

"You're slipping, Guts!" Came a high, shrill voice from behind his head.

Guts, the Black Swordsman, reached his right hand up behind his ear, and flicked. There was resistance against his finger for a second, then squeaking wail, and the sound of a small creature knocked into the bushes across the road.

"Thought I told you to watch Caska, Elf?"

His voice was gruff, and deep.

Rustle, rustle. "Pleh!" A tiny, turnip-sized head popped out of the bushes, and blinked large bluish eyes. "She's fine, I put her rope around a tree. It'll take a while before she undoes that. I saw you get hit, and wanted to make sure I was there if it was serious…"

Guts chuckled, and rubbed his side. "Small fry like this? Don't make me laugh." He tried chuckling, and frowned. The wound was deeper then he'd thought.

"Well yeah, considering all you've been up against…" The elf hovered out of the bushes, on buglike wings. Its body was nude, greenish, and genderless. He flitted over to the standing swordsman, and settled on Guts' shoulder.

For all of three seconds.

Then Guts casually reached up, grabbed him by the legs, and thumped him against his side. The small elf shrieked, as a cloud of glittering, pollen-like dust burst from him, and settled over Guts.

"AAAAAAAaaauuyou could give me some warning, you know!"

"Relax." Guts let go of the upside-down sprite's legs, and started walking as the tiny creature fluttered desperately to avoid landing on his head.

"Relax, you say? Pfah! You always get torn up, and you're always turning to me for healing… How the hell did you last before I showed up, that's what I'd like to know?"

"Bled a lot. Rested and healed. Don't have time for that now, elf."

He felt his side as he went. Only a slight twinge, and his fingers encountered newly-knitted skin. Satisfied, he refastened his armor over the seam, and made a note to recheck it when they'd stopped for the night. Then he frowned, the elf was babbling again.


Guts glanced around, his eye tracking the flitting green creature. "What was that?"

"I said, it's Puck. Not elf, not sprite, not 'Hey, You!' It's PUCK, dammit!"

"I know."

"Then- why- you… Ooooh! I ought to…" Puck stopped, mid-rant. Guts had stopped, still and quiet.

"What's wrong?"

The Black Swordsman was looking down. At a loose rope, lying at the base of a tree. "This where you left her?"

"Oh no…"

The ends of the rope were frayed. It was old, and by the looks of it, she had chewed herself free. "Guts, I.. I'm sorry, I thought it'd hold…"

"Skip it. Come on, she can't be far." Guts was already jogging into the woods, sword sheathed in its harness, both arms pumping as he ran. "Move, elf! It's nearly night!"

Puck's eyes went wide. For a few minutes, he'd forgotten… Forgotten the Swordsman's brand and the curse that came with it.

Caska had an identical brand.

And it was almost nightfall.