The Red Blade
Part Eight – The Red Blade
Beneath Athradies’ villa there existed an old, dusty vault, a room in which Carse had never before set foot, nor even knew the existence of. Flimsy webs were strung out between walls and a row of marble columns, worn with age. The bronze glow of an arcane light that Carse had summoned up flickered across ancient tapestries and banners that hung from the walls and ceiling, all faded and frayed by the passage of years. Down between the columns, the floor had been worn by the tread of many feet so that a grove had been worn into it. Across the floor, a thick coating of dust lay, undisturbed by any until Athradies took Carse down there. The ceiling of the vault bore a painted mural, though age had not been kind to it, for the paint had cracked and peeled, with large sections missing, yet still Carse could make out much of what it had been of. Beneath a starry sky, a man strode, sword in hand, though most of the sword belonged to a section that was missing, while all around him fell creatures of dark and flame, and men of disfigured form.
At the far end of the vault stood what appeared to be a grey stone altar, one simple and plain, without adornment. A bundle sat atop it, one long and thin, wrapped in a silk cloth of a rich, deep cerulean. Dust and webs clung to it, a sign of how long it had sat there undisturbed.
Athradies led them along between the columns up to the altar, where he stopped. Carse released the bronze orb of light, to send it hovering above them.
“We stand in a place that few remember, and even fewer are aware of,” Athradies told Carse, speaking in hushed, almost reverential tones. “Long ago, when the city was still young, before my villa even existed, a different building had been raised here. An order of holy warriors protected the city, defending it from threats both external and internal. Their home was here, though all that remains of it is this vault. Each was trained as you were, as near as we can tell from what remains of the records, for after their fall, there were those that sought to erase all memory of them. At the end of their training, each of the holy warriors received a sword, one that marked them out.”
Athradies set aside his staff and reached for the bundle with a hand that Carse could see trembled. He lifted it clear from the dust and webs and carefully started to unfold the cloth. When at last it had been unwrapped, Carse could see a sword within the silk cloth, one long and slender. What made it stand out was the colour of the blade, the metal of a deep red, scored with gold markings he did not recognise. The hilt, enclosed in a gilt bucket, had been bound with soft leather, though it showed signs of wear.
“Each of those holy warriors carried one of these, a sanctified red blade. That order fell long ago, and over the years there swords were lost to us, destroyed for the most, or otherwise no more, until just one remained; this one. Long I searched to uncover its resting place, and great trials I endured, but at last I recovered it and brought it home, where it belongs. Now it will be yours.”
Carse stepped back away from the sword. “But I am no priest, Master,” he protested.
“I did not say that they were priests, but holy men,” Athradies replied. He wrapped his old, gnarled hand around the hilt of the sword. “For all their pretences at piety, few priests are holy,” he added scornfully. “No, these holy warriors, these Red Blades, were righteous by the justness of their cause.” With both hands he grasped the sword, letting the silk cloth fall, and lifted it so the point stretched towards the roof and the mural upon it. “Take up the Red Blade, Carse, for it is yours, and cleanse the city of its iniquities, as it was done of old. Make it what it once was, and what it should be.”
He reversed the sword and held it out to Carse, hilt first, offering it to him. Carse stood transfixed, unable to retreat, his eyes locked upon the scarlet blade. Deep within, he could feel a yearning to take up the blade, to make it his own, for it called to him on a level he could not comprehend, a whispering song of promise. It felt, in some way, right, as if a missing piece of him had come home. Yet fears and doubts beset him still, and those anchored him to the spot so he was caught between flight and acceptance.
“Fear not,” Athradies intoned in a sonorous voice, one full of hope and power, “For though it shall be you that bears this burden, you shall not be alone. And by your deeds shall a fire be enkindled in this city that shall blaze through it, purifying it of its sins and awakening the hearts of man.”
The words stirred Carse, not so much by their meaning but by the intent in which they had been spoken, for he could sense the yearning within them that Athradies imparted, a burning desire to see this done. He understood the old man now; all he did, all he worked towards, was for the good of the city. He could not deny that to the man who had done so much for him. Slowly he raised his hand and stretched it out to take the sword and Athradies relinquished it to him.
As his fingers closed around the hilt, he felt a spark and a surge ran through him, a wild electricity that set the heart to racing. Strength and a surety of purpose coursed through his veins and he knew in his heart of hearts that all things were possible with this blade in hand. His eyes widen as he held the sword aloft. It possessed a sweetness of balance that made it feel as if it had been made for him alone, and a feather light weight to it that made it yearn to sing and dance in his hand.
“You feel it, do you not?” Athradies inquired, for he had seen the light that had shone in Carse’s eyes as he gripped the sword. “There is no doubt that this sword was destined for you, and with it this night we shall commence our great work.”
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