The Closest Thing to Peace
Author's Note: This is something I wrote... ages ago. Two years ago now, I think. But I never really found a title that fit until now. Everman's an intriguing sort of character, and this was a fun little bit to write from his point of view. Thanks to Robin and Sara, who once upon a time beta'd this for me.
Disclaimer: It all belongs to Dave Duncan, who is an incredible and fun writer whom I can never live up to.
It had been so easy to pretend that I had put my past behind me. I had stopped counting lifetimes after that horrid day when Hell itself had broken free and I watched as two of my brothers were slaughtered. How different they were, and each with his own set of values. I still remembered when the brother from my first life had been doomed to an existence far worse than my own, and I wondered what the hell he was doing here now. And I didn't pity the brother of my new brethren when he was met with the cold fury in those eyes.
My soul would never be at rest. I knew this. And I hated the look he gave me when I passed on that damn sword. I'd have preferred the bitter anger at that point, but it was pity he gave me. Maybe I could have gotten on with my lives had I just given him mine while he was there. But hell, we're all sentimental about one thing or another, and I wasn't quite ready to give up my heritage. Not yet, at least.
I never could say how long had passed when it happened, but I knew none still lived that knew my name. At least not in that far off land of my birth. Here, I would live forever, and so would my name.
But it started off just like any other day. It was my turn to fight. I didn't expect anything out of the ordinary. The challenger hit the gong, and I went out to do my job. I guess one gets bored with a clean kill and starts playing with his opponents after a while, and I had found myself lately toying with them like Herat used to do. He had been here longer than the rest of us, but even he hadn't been one of the original swordsmen.
It was a hell of a surprise when I approached my opponent. He was about the same size as me, lean and muscular, skin dark from the sun. He couldn't be more than thirty-five, but he looked like a kid to me. Everyone did, except those I shared my fate with. But the worst part was that damn sword of his. I wanted to scream, but instead I kept my voice low enough that the spectators couldn't hear. Damn him for reminding me of that place.
"Go back to Starkmoor, kid. You'll only find death and heartache here." He froze in shock, eyes wide. I came in with a classic Ironhall attack—Eggbeater, or was it Butterfly? I couldn't remember, but the point was I knew he could block it in his sleep.
"What do you know of Starkmoor?" he asked, and again I used some Ironhall tricks I barely remembered learning.
"I was a Blade once, too, kid. Were you part of the Guard, or did your ward die? Either way, don't waste your time here. Last Blade out this way died a very unpleasant death." He didn't seem to be listening to me. Probably trying to distract me. Then he pulled something that reminded me painfully of my old classmate Quinn. I pulled my shot, cutting the kid across the chest. Nothing fatal. Maybe I should have just run him through and left it at that, but some old loyalty held me back. Damn him for looking so much like every other Blade.
"You killed a brother Blade?" The kid's eyes were as wide as saucers.
"I didn't kill him. But the one who did had his head chopped off by the boy's ward. Seemed like a good enough kid. Wolfbiter was his name." I was talking more than I normally would, but I was hoping the fool would just get on with it and run off with his gold.
"Wolfbiter… He's in the Litany." Now that shocked the hell out of me, and he drew blood.
"So that bastard Durendal made it back, eh? I half expected that he had, what with no one else coming hunting either of us down. Not that they'd care half a wit about me, but Durendal liked to shake things up." The kid looked like his eyes were going to explode they were bugging out so much.
"You knew Paragon?"
"Who the hell is Paragon?" I was still using those damn moves from that first life of mine. I needed to end this soon, one way or another. Time was ticking.
"Paragon. That's what everyone calls him. Durendal, that is." I kind of just stared at him stupidly. The crowd jeered when he didn't take a free shot. I had mostly forgotten they were there.
"You've got to be shitting me. He always was too noble for his own damn good. Figures he'd go and make a hero of himself."
"He's more than just a hero. He's the best there ever was. His sword hangs next to Nightfall." I started laughing then, because this kid could never understand who Durendal had truly been. And damn him if he reminded me of Harvest in that moment, which just made me laugh harder. It was easy to remember his blood dripping all over the anvil, and Durendal just sat there and took what was coming, then named his sword after the guy that should have been saddled with that fop.
"Well, things really have changed, haven't they?" A smile flickered across his face before I pulled a move I'm sure the kid had never seen, since it came from the opposite end of the world from everything he knew. He stumbled, blood flowing from the new wound on his leg.
"Listen, kid. I know why you came here. All the gold you can carry, the chance to live forever. But it's not worth it. I let you beat me now, you take your gold, and then you get the hell out of here. Forget about this place and everything you saw here. You'd be doing all the Blades a disrespect if you didn't."
"Come back to Chivial with me. You say you knew Paragon, and I can tell you're a great swordsman. You could teach at Ironhall." I laughed again, but it held more bitterness than humor.
"I won't ever leave this place, kid. And if the great Durendal couldn't drag me back, kicking and screaming, you surely won't be able to. Now take your shot and let's end this." And I left myself wildly open. He didn't strike. "What the hell is wrong with you, kid?"
"I can't kill a brother Blade."
"I'm not a Blade any more, and I'm not going to die today, or any time soon. So just do what I told you and you can be on your way back to Chivial by the end of the day." I attacked then, and he defended. No more niceties as I tried to draw him out. He landed just as many blows as I did, trying to protect himself. Then I saw my opening, and I charged. He wasn't expecting it, and I managed to lodge his saber up under my ribs. His eyes widened as I fell to my knees.
"Take your sword and go, damn it. You won't win tomorrow. Think of this as an act of brotherly love," I said through clenched teeth. The pain never changed, even if I knew I'd be fine by morning. He pulled out the sword and I couldn't help but notice the blood on the cat's eye. It looked like it was crying.
That match was over, and I was carried inside. I hoped the idiot would listen to me, but I doubted he would. It must be something about the binding that makes all of us a bunch of fools. Us. Damn it. I should have killed him when I had the chance. Quick and clean, a mercy kill for someone so much like I had once been.
And I knew he'd be back in the morning. Pride almost demanded it. They'd send Sahrif, and the kid would get torn to pieces. Well, there wasn't anything I could do until tomorrow anyway. I could always hope he had more common sense than I had.
Normally we don't watch the matches. We've all been there before, and in some ways we all hate that arena, even if we love the power it gives us. But I stood in the shadows the next morning, and sure enough he came back. The kid had named himself Felix. Probably had found the name on some old record or another. He couldn't be more different than the man who had been my Second, once upon a time. Right now, I pitied the kid.
Had the outcome been any different, I probably wouldn't have done what I did. The kid ripped Sahrif apart. It reminded me so much of my own match that century of lifetimes ago. But now it was time to pay the boy a visit. Looking back, maybe I had already made up my mind, but not likely.
"You've had your fun. Now go home, kid." I couldn't help but be pleased with myself at the way he jumped. I had been jumpy too with all that gold.
"And what if I refuse? What if I go back and try again tomorrow? I have the chance to join you if I win."
"No one ever wins a third time, kid."
"I didn't. But even if I had beaten Herat, the victory wouldn't taste so sweet any more. Do you know what it's like knowing that every single person you once knew, every friend you once had, is dead? That no one left remembers your name or who you were? Your name is everything. Every Blade knows that. Do you know who Felix was, the first one? It was probably just a name in a book to you, but he was alive once, and he was my friend. Hell, he was my Second. But no one remembers that any more.
"You want to live forever? Go back to Chivial and do something stupid. Get yourself in the Litany. No one knows who I was, and no one ever will. No one will mourn a death I might never see. They don't give a damn about men who spend the rest of time in some far off land. Think about those names. Durendal, and whoever the hell else it is you hero worship. They'll live forever just because no one will forget them. People that actually cared one way or another if they were alive." The kid had the good grace to look truly shocked, and something about him reminded me of the pitying look Durendal had given me.
And that's when the truth hit me. Durendal had been wrong when he said the Everman he once knew was dead, at least at the time. Now, things had changed, and damn Durendal for always being right in the end.
"Take Reaper back to Ironhall for me, brother. Tell them that Sir Everman is dead, for all it's worth. Maybe this will help me find some peace of mind. A good Ironhall sword shouldn't be used to slaughter the naïve any more."
"I won't forget you, brother."
Damn the kid, but he took the sword, and I knew he'd go back. Whether he'd make it was a different story, but I had a feeling he would. There's a certain strength Blades have when charged with a mission, and I knew he'd do everything he could to fulfill the one I had given him.
And the next morning when the sun rose, that other existence of mine was nothing more than a fleeting memory. This, I guess, would be the closest thing to peace I'd ever find.
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