The talk about the happenings at the Tournament of the Swordsman didn’t last more than a couple of weeks before it was old news. Al’ev learned afterwards that his mother had blotted out a few seconds of each spectator’s memory with a very powerful spell. When she explained how the magic worked, he had asked her to teach him how to cast the spell too. She had laughed and refused saying that he wasn’t ready for such magic.
The effect of Nalef’s spell had left the spectators with the perception that Al’ev had simply moved so fast that nobody had seen what had happened. Though that still surrounded the incident with a sense of mystery, the town’s people were more than happy to come up with their own theories on what had happened.
Some even went as far as to suggest that Al’ev had the spirit of the fallen swordsman within.
Al’ev was quite content with this part of his life. His swordplay continued to evolve as did his skill with magic. His life with his friends had grown more complicated though.
Well, his relationship with Mel had grown more complicated anyway.
He often found that she was watching him more intently whenever Joshua, Mel and Al’ev hung out. He was surprised to find that he liked this. He was even more surprised to find that he enjoyed watching her, appreciating just how beautiful she was. He didn’t know how he missed it before. The whole thing was strange to Al’ev. He didn’t understand. The few times he tried to bring it up with his mother, she would laugh and say “It’s only natural.”
It was quite frustrating.
Al’ev often found himself escaping the weird feelings Mel brought up by going out into the woods with Joshua and Brox and sparring for a few hours. His best friend was more than happy to go along. Joshua had been enamored with Al’ev’s performance and, unlike most of the townsfolk, was unwilling to move on from the events.
Time, however, was content with continuing to flow. And so days came and went, many found Al’ev studying in the Arcane Library of Halar or practicing dance steps with his mother in their house. Fewer and fewer were the days he and his mother practiced magic though and he didn’t know why. It became another source of frustration. Why wouldn’t his mother spend the time to teach him how to control magic?
This was the question that drove Al’ev to take Brox and Joshua out to the forest for some sparring the winter that followed the two hundred and thirty fifth Day of the Swordsman. Winters in Halar could be quite harsh. But in the early months of the season, snow would lightly carpet the foothills of the Larian mountains forming a beautiful picture. Al’ev didn’t know many sights that could match the absolute gorgeousness of Lake Halar surrounded by snow covered pines and mountains in the background.
Well, he could think of one person who did. But that wasn’t why he was out here.
“It’s looking like it’ll be a cold winter this year.” Joshua commented as they walked along the lake’s edge.
“Yeah…” Al’ev said as he watched Brox run out ahead of them along the trail. “Brox, don’t go too far ahead now.” He turned to Joshua. “Joshua, have you ever liked a girl?”
“What? Me? No way. Well, maybe. I don’t know. Girls are weird.”
That about summed up what Al’ev was feeling
“Why? Do you like someone?”
“I don’t know.” Al’ev replied.
“Uh huh. Well, whatever. I’m not here to talk about girls. That looks like a good spot over there.” Joshua said pointing into a clearing off to the side of the road.
Al’ev looked it over and nodded. “Sure. Brox, here boy!” The dog charged back to him and then knocked him over.
Al’ev laughed as the dog licked at his face.
Does this never get old for you?
Al’ev managed to get Brox off of him then got back to his feet and said, “Come on Brox. Let’s go have fun.” He lead Joshua and Brox into the clearing and began to stretch.
“Again with the stretching! You never used to stretch before we sparred. What, you become some big town champion and you feel you have to stretch before fighting every time now?”
Al’ev grinned as he continued to stretch and watched Joshua begin to mimic him. Joshua had made it a point to playfully jab at Al’ev about his status as champion whenever they were about to cross swords.
After a few minutes, Al’ev reached for his sword and realized he was going for his steel blade again. He caught himself, laughed, then pulled out his wooden sword.
“Hey Al’ev! I saw that. You want to kill me or something? We’re friends here, remember?” Joshua said as he dropped into the ready stance he and Al’ev had been working on for him over the past few months.
“Yeah, yeah. Just get ready to feel the bruises.”
They stood staring at each other, the wind slowly blowing through the trees and shrubs that surrounded the clearing. Neither moved but both realized that the real fight had already begun. It always started this way, a battle within their minds to see who would flinch first.
Speed and surprise win battles, but being rash gets you into trouble.
No sooner did he think this than he and Joshua charged each other. They were on the same wavelength today and that meant neither was going to be winning soon. They exchanged one blow, two blows, six blows, but neither could gain the upper hand. Eventually the pair found themselves in a sword lock, grinning.
“A good fight.” Joshua said.
“A good fight.” Al’ev acknowledged.
The sound of Brox growling suddenly came to Al’ev’s ears and he and Joshua stopped to look over at the dog who seemed to be looking into the forest.
“What’s up with Brox?” Joshua asked after a few moments.
“I don’t know.” Al’ev watched his dog and couldn’t remember one time in the past seven years he had acted like this. “Brox, what is it?”
The hound didn’t respond right away. He continued growling for a few more moments then began barking.
“Brox. What’s wrong with you?” Al’ev began walking over towards his dog.
What in the name of the gods has gotten into him?
He knelt down and began to pet the dog. That had always worked whenever he had been worked up in the past, but this time it was to no avail. Finally, Al’ev decided to look into the forest again and froze.
There in the shadows of the pines were two figures. They were short, had red eyes and as they came closer, he could see longer ears and green skin. They also appeared to be holding makeshift weapons in their hands.
“Goblins!” Joshua said causing Al’ev to look back at his friend. Joshua was looking the other direction and was backing up towards where Al’ev and Brox were, training blade held out before him.
Al’ev stood up and drew his Halarian sword. “I know. How many do you see, Joshua?”
“Two over here.”
“Four of them then. Okay, we could try to run, but they’ll probably just run us down. I think we’re going to have to fight.”
“Easy for you to say. You have a sword!” Joshua said, now back to back with Al’ev.
“We’ll try to take one of their weapons then. Use both of the wooden swords until you get a chance.” Al’ev handed Joshua his wooden blade.
The goblins were closing in around them now, forming a small perimeter.
“Why are they here anyway?” Al’ev asked in the elven tongue, hoping that the language switch would give them an advantage.
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them, smart guy?” Joshua responded in kind letting Al’ev know he understood his intent.
“Somehow I don’t think they’ll give me an answer. Brox, stay close boy.”
The hound got closer to Al’ev and Joshua but continued to growl menacingly at the goblins as they began to circle.
“Patience Joshua. Wait for an opening.”
Then one of the goblins made a lunge for Brox. Al’ev anticipated this and brought his sword down in time to catch the makeshift club, slapping it aside then following it up with a kick from his left leg.
In doing this he had left himself open and another two goblins came at him from behind. Joshua was ready though. He had spent the past few months working to improve since the tournament and Al’ev knew he could hold his own, even with wooden weapons. Both of the clubs were stopped by his wooden blades.
The fourth goblin jumped at Joshua’s back and Al’ev was about to swing his blade at this one when Brox tackled the small creature and began to ferociously snap away. Al’ev thought he saw blood shoot up, but he didn’t stop to watch. He knew Brox was more than a challenge for a critter that size. His focus went back to the one who had tried to club his friend, hoping that Joshua would hold on long enough for him to finish the first goblin then come back to get the other two.
Al’ev exchanged a few swings and parries with the goblin who wasn’t all that strong of a fighter, from what Al’ev could tell. Then he heard Joshua cry out in pain as a loud crunch sounded from behind him. This caused the goblin that Al’ev was fighting to cheer for a moment. It was all the time Al’ev needed to bring his sword to bare and cut the vile creature in two.
He knew in the back of his mind the shock of killing an sentient being for the first time would hit him hard later, but now his friend was in trouble. Given the sounds coming from Brox and his target, he knew his pup was handling his own. No surprise, the dog had much more mass than the tiny goblin and could be quite vicious when he wanted to be.
Al’ev charged the goblins facing his friend and took the first unaware, effortlessly severing an arm as it was getting ready to strike a now bloodied Joshua.
Joshua was still standing, but he looked like he was favoring a leg and one of his arms was hanging by his side at an odd angle. The human boy hit the third goblin over the head with his wooden sword hard, stunning the creature for a moment.
Al’ev used this opportunity to slice this goblin in two, this time wincing as he saw the life instantly leave his opponent’s eyes.
He was just turning back to the goblin who lost its arm when he felt something hit his back hard. Suddenly he was on his stomach and was unable to move. It was as though something had zapped all of his strength when he had been hit.
“Al’ev! Why you little…” Joshua threw his wooden blade at the goblin who had knocked Al’ev to the ground then picked up Al’ev’s Halarian Sword. He was about to finish off the crippled goblin when another green form hit him from the side.
Speed and surprise…
Joshua hit the ground next to Al’ev and stopped moving. He appeared to be knocked out. Al’ev managed to flip himself over but almost instantly wished he hadn’t. The crippled goblin was now stalking towards him and the look in its eyes was unmistakable.
Murder. The goblin was going to kill him.
A switch flipped in the back of his mind. He sat up and began reciting a spell he had never used in the his lessons with his mother. It only took a moment, but the flames shot forward from his hands and the little goblin never had a chance to react.
Only ashes remained by the time Al’ev’s spell had ended a few seconds later. He experienced a moment of revulsion before a club hit him in the shoulder, throwing him forward onto his stomach again. He was instantly reminded of how it had felt to be hit across the chest by Taruk a few months ago. He was in trouble and he found that his spell had taken a lot out of him.
The goblin’s club hit him again in the side, cracking a few ribs judging from the sound and pain. The blow also had the effect of rolling him over onto his back. He watched in horror as the goblin picked up his blade from the ground by Joshua’s side. Then the green creature jumped on Al’ev’s stomach and raised the Halarian blade above its head, poised to strike the killing blow. Dread was all that fell upon Al’ev as the goblin grinned, its small pointy teeth chilling him faster than the snow he laid in.
Then something ran into Al’ev’s view from his right. Brox jumped as he always had every morning when Al’ev and his pup were playing in the back yard over the previous seven years, straight into the goblin knocking the creature from it’s perch.
Al’ev began to smile at the dog until he felt warm liquid hit his cheek and heard the yelp of pain from his pup.
The goblin and Brox collided with the ground and only the small green creature stood back up. The goblin was covered in red blood as was the blade it still held. Goblin blood wasn’t red.
Al’ev’s tears began running down his face.
Come on boy. Get up. I know you can…. Get up!
“No…NO!” He heard his own voice cry out.
But the dog was already dead. Somewhere in the back of Al’ev’s mind he knew there was no way Brox could still be alive given the amount of blood that reddened the snow he laid in.
The goblin again stalked towards Al’ev and Joshua, who was still not moving. Al’ev still didn’t have the strength to move and he had just watched his dog die in defense of his life. Surely this was a dream.
And in dreams, doesn’t the hero always live?
But this wasn’t a dream. It all hurt too much to be a dream. And his blood felt warm on his skin as his body slowly grew colder from it seeping out of the wounds on his back and side. No, this was reality.
The goblin was above him again, but this time it was looking off somewhere behind him, towards the road he realized. It seemed to be chattering in its own language at someone. The goblin appeared to grow agitated, then raised Al’ev’s blade again ready to strike.
Just finish me already. At least I’ll get to see my dog again.
Instead, Al’ev’s eyes widened as the goblin’s head suddenly began growing. It dropped Al’ev’s blade, which landed by his leg, then grabbed at its ears in pain. Al’ev knew what was happening then and turned away. He heard a loud splat noise a few moments later then glanced back. The goblin was no longer standing, and that was because it no longer had a head.
His mother strode into his view then. “I’m sorry Al’ev, I came as quickly as I could.” She sat him up and sealed a few of his wounds then looked over at Joshua. “What happened?”
“We were just sparring like usual mom. Then Brox started to growl…and then these goblins…and then…mom,” he pointed at the unmoving form of his dog, “that’s my pup.”
She looked at where he was pointing and didn’t say anything as she worked on reviving Joshua. Finally she answered, “Brox is gone, Al’ev. I’m sorry.”
“But you know a spell right? You always know a spell. Or maybe the clerics can heal him, right? There’s got to be something! Mom, he can’t die!” He said as he stumbled over to his dog.
Nalef’s eyes grew moist and she said, “No Al’ev. He has already moved on. We will bury him and honor him when we get back home.”
Joshua stirred then and flinched at the site of Nalef over him. “Oh, Ms. Reldin. Ouch.” He winced as he touched the side of his head. “Did you save us?”
She shook her head. “No Joshua.”
“Is Al’ev…” He started, standing up too fast and nearly fell over. He managed to catch himself and then saw where Al’ev was, sitting by a crimson spot in the snow.
“Oh no. Brox…Brox isn’t?” He whispered to Nalef.
She stood silently in the early winter snow and allowed her son’s tears to answer Joshua’s question.