++ Swords at Dawn ++
It was just before dawn above the cloudline. An odd quiet was upon the air, a stillness among the wind-swept rock. The morning watch upon the battlements caught sight of a lone figure, clad in gleaming silver armor branding a greatsword. The alarm sounded and more mustered to the wall. Stopping far from the gate, the intruder raised the sword high, then in an ornate swing brought the hilt to the chest and stood there silently in that stance.
A Sword Brethren recognized the salute.
“It has issued a challenge by the sword. Whoever this is knows formal protocol of the Astarte…”
“Then we shall answer that challenge,” Brother Marius replied as he arrived to the battlement, “for we shall not take trespass upon our sanctuary casually.”
He looked to the nearest Initiate and Neophyte and scowled.
“It appears the perimeter alarms were not properly activated. Anyone approaching the peak should have tripped them well before getting to the gate.”
“My lord we ran a full spectrum of tests on the perimeter, Forgemaster Vauxo himself approved the results!” the Initiate replied.
Marius looked back at the figure as his internal overlay displayed the perimeter tests. They were indeed working properly. The sun was beginning to rise behind the shelf of clouds.
“Call for Brother Karos, today we shall see his sword mastery at work.”
Within the chapel proper, Brother Karos was in deep meditation. The sanctified incense and blessed candles filled the air with slowly drifting wisps of thick smoke. He felt the vibration of the quick steps before the sound of footfalls reached down the vaulted corridor leading to the sanctuary. Two Sword Brethren stopped before the antechamber and kneeled.
“A challenge of the sword has been issued at the gate, Brother Karos. Will you accept?”
He said nothing, stood, turned, and began walking down the corridor to the armory, that was answer enough. The two Sword Brethren fell in line behind him.
The sun was just fully up from behind the clouds, turning the figure into a silhouette. The gates of the fortress thundered as the giant internal mechanisms opened just enough to permit just one through the gates. Out strode Brother Karos, the black armor contrasting against the gleaming sheen of the artificer power sword in each hand. Anyone who was not assigned to duty was at the battlements, watching as he walked to meet his challenger.
As he neared, the optics in his helm began to return data which seemed impossible. It was clear to him this was a woman, head shaven, save a flowing red topknot. The lower part of her face was concealed by an ornate gorget. Her eyes were fixed upon him, and he saw within them a red ruby gleam in the iris. He strode closer and certain feeling of unease came upon him. It was fleeting, but his caution heightened. The distance closed, each one of them sized up the other.
“I accept your challenge of the sword, I am Sword Brother Karos of the Templar order. Who are you to seek martial challenge.”
The woman’s free hand slowly extended out, and began to gesture. Karos recognized it as Astarte Battlemark, though he needed no translation his helm overlay began to interpret the sign language.
::I am Telemanria, Excruciatus of the Silent Sisterhood. I have come to judge your use of Pariahs::
“There are no pariahs here, Excruciatus, only Templars.”
::I shall state my terms then, Sword Brother Karos::
Karos nodded his assent.
::Challenge of skill. First to land an unanswered strike shall be the better::
Again, he silently nodded his assent.
::I seek an audience with your Marshal should I be the better::
“And if I am the better?” Karos replied.
::Kill me, release me or take me prisoner. I care not if I am defeated::
“Your terms are acceptable.” He raised the sword in his left hand and gave Telemanria his salute.
She mirrored it, and gracefully went into a low stance and leveled the greatsword toward him.
With sudden and explosive energy, Karos charged and lunged in an aggressive alpha strike, arcing both swords downwards.
From the battlements the challenge was a blur of silver and black. Each was masterful in their own right. Telemanria was the pinnacle of efficiency. No move was wasted, every angle calculated. Karos contrasted with unrelenting blows, varying between a high attack and sweeping low parries. A masterful reposte disarmed Karos of his right handed sword. He counted with a two handed up swing that unfooted Telemanria, falling to her back. Karos lunged at the opportunity, bringing the sword down to surely end the match, but the sword tip bit only into rock. As the blade fell she rolled quickly and sprang to her feet with such speed that Karos didn’t have time to recover. Her blade had found it’s mark. She stood just behind him to his left flank, sword tip poised at the back his helm.
From the battlements, Marius could see Karos giving his salute. Soundly beaten, he walked back to the gates with Telemanria in step behind him. He raised his commander on an internal vox line
“Marshal MacLaren, we have an unannounced visitor seeking an audience…”