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Flashing Blades!
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Written by Paul D. Batteiger   
Thursday, 03 March 2016 22:48
Come and read an excerpt from Call of the Crimson Empire:

A Troublesome Episode of Discourtesy

Kasar stepped off the transport and shouldered her way among the crowd on the steps that led down to the wide boulevard.  This was a far better sector of the city, and she held her head up among the well-dressed gentlemen trailed by their bodyguards, the ladies in their piled hairstyles and glimmering fashions.  She knew her own clothes were plain and marked her as an offworlder, but she would not hesitate or hide her face, not even here.

She stepped onto the wide golden street and looked up, hoping to see the red banners of the Guard, but the places were bare.  Strange.  The current of the crowd was against her, and she had to push her way through, grunting minimal apologies as she made her way upstream.  Bodyguards glowered at her, and she glowered back.  She had to remind herself to keep her hand of her sword-hilt.  This was not the Outworlds.

At last the crowd thinned away, and she climbed the broad steps to the plaza that swept along the front of the Hall of Heroes.  There stood the tall, columned front she had seen in so many stories, the statues of great Guardsmen standing shaded in the red sunlight.  Again there was a lack of banners, and she felt annoyed.  This was the seat of the Imperial Guards, where were the flags and banners?  Where were the red-cloaked heroes themselves?  She crossed the wide plaza and found she was alone moving closer to the sprawling edifice – no one else was near.

Puzzled, she mounted the great steps and passed into the shadow of the building, and there she found no red-armored warriors, but only two men in armor so dark blue it was almost black, and black cloaks that hung behind them like funeral shrouds.  Their helms hid their faces, and they leaned indolently on their pikes.  She did not care for how they looked at her.

“How,” she said, stopping before them.  “You are no Guardsmen.”

“Oh, and what tells you so?” one of them said, smirking.

“Well, any fool can see you are not.  Guardsmen wear red, and you wear black.  As well, you both have a bitter, untrustworthy look to you.  I dare say you would not make suitable guards for anyone, let alone the Empress.”  Kasar looked them over, saw pistols and swords as well as their pikes, but the way they stood spoke of insolence and ease.

“Have you not heard that the Empress is dead, offworlder?” the other one said.  “Assassin’s slew her in the night.”

Kasar hesitated, well aware of how men like this enjoyed playing jokes on the unwary.  “I heard a rumor of such after I landed, but I do not credit that at all, and you must think me a fool.”

“Perhaps a fool indeed,” the first man said.  “You are right we are no Guardsmen, and well for you we are not.”

“How so?” Kasar said, becoming annoyed.

“Because the Imperial Guard have been proved the most base and vile traitors to the Empire.  It was they who conspired to murder the Empress, and even now they hide among the populace, fomenting unrest.”  The second man stepped closer, watching her face.

Kasar’s hand curled, itching for her sword.  “So I see you do think me a fool,” she said.

“You are the one who has come to this place, on this of all days,” the first man said.  “Pray tell us why you come to the Hall of the Guards on such a day as this?”

Kasar narrowed her eyes, not liking the feeling that she was being played with.  “I came to join the Imperial Guards.”

They laughed at her, and both of them hefted their pikes.  “Well,” the first one said.  “Let it be not said you are well-timed.  You come to the seat of the Guards on the very day when they have been outlawed for their complicity in the murder of the Empress, and you say you came to join them.”  They both laughed again.  “I cannot decide if we should arrest you, or simply give you a thrashing for being impudent.”

Kasar laid her hand on the hilt of her sword.  “I am Kasar, of the Kell line, of the House of Calyx.  I am not given to allowing nameless brigands to jape at me.”

The forst man leveled his pike at her.  “We are knights of the Black Legion, girl.  We do not allow brats from the outcast worlds to insult us without consequence.  If you beg – and beg prettily – we might allow you to walk away with no worse than a spanking.”

Kasar’s vision seemed to go red, and her sword was in her hand in a flickering instant.  She squeezed the trigger and the proton field sprang to life around the blade, shimmering a vibrant blue, the two men activated their pikes a heartbeat later, the long points snapping to electric life.  Kasar drew her dagger as well, and it hissed as it’s short-interval red field came alive.

The first man laughed.  “I haven’t seen anyone take a stance like that in years.  What do they teach you out in the dirt worlds?”

Kasar did not lower her guard.  She had studied with the finest Terashian swordmasters.  These men might mock her, but she would not flinch.

They came at her as one, trained to fight as a pair.  Their pikes were much longer than her blade, and seemed to give them great advantage.  They had some cause to be confident.  One of them moved to draw her guard while the other slipped aside and stabbed at her side.  Kasar parried, whirled and parried low with her dagger.  The fields crackled and spat as they collided, and she felt the vibration crawl up her arm.

The first one thrust at her face and she ducked rather than counter.  A sharp move to the right and she had him between her and his companion.  Even as he backed away she moved in close and he had to sacrifice his pike haft to block her sword as she cut at his head.  The ceramic haft sheared apart and the tip flickered and died.  She feinted high, then dropped to one knee and caught the back of his leg with her dagger as he jumped back.  He cried out and fell, blood gouting from his thigh.

His friend was on her then, and she parried fiercely, lunged and forced him back.  He gathered himself and attacked again, and she slipped around a pillar to throw him off.  He lunged around it as she doubled back and caught him off guard.  One sweep of her sword and she chopped the head off his pike, left him holding a useless haft.

He yelled and backed away, drew his sword and brought it to blue-arcing life.  A touch and he activated a small hyperfield on his left arm – a ghostly buckler.  One that size would not stop a determined attack, but it would slow and deflect.

Kasar sneered at him.  She held up her dagger, turned it off, and then twirled it in her fingers before sheathing it.  “I do not need both hands to teach you manners,” she said.  The other guard was still groaning and clutching his bleeding leg, she narrowed her eyes at him.  “And you be quiet, or I’ll silence you myself.”

She and the other man circled, watched, and then closed.  Their swords flashed and flared in the shadow of the great entryway as she met his angry rush, parried, countered, and struck low.  He blocked with his buckler and she slid her blade up and over, gashed his side.  He grunted and slashed wildly at her neck, but she met his attack strong and their blades sang together.  They glared over the locked and spitting swords, the blue light of the fields illuminated their faces.

He tried to shove her back but she gave way, letting him throw himself off-balance, and before he could recover her sword was through his chest, emerging blue and crackling from his back.  He coughed and his sword fell ringing to the steps, skittered down as the field flickered out, leaving only the golden gleam of ninth steel.  Kasar pulled her blade free and let him fall, gasping and holding the wound.

Kasar flourished her sword, deactivated the field, and sheathed it.  “Indeed, if you fight no better than that, you would need a legion to acquit yourselves.”  She looked at the man with the wounded leg, saw he was afraid she would kill him, and she scoffed.  “Take your lesson, and cherish it.”

“You will die for this, girl,” he said.  “You will be hunted down without mercy.”

“Let them come,” she sneered.  “I’ll not have it said I want for courage, or for steel.  Let them come.  There is room for many upon the edge of my blade.”  She turned on her heel then, and walked away, her boots ringing on the empty stairs.  If there were no heroes here, she would seek them elsewhere.
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