"I am prepared to kill you. Are you prepared to die?"
He stands tall, a cut above the rest in this rabble. Dancing around them in the boots of a swashbuckler, his doublet never touching red, he smiles as he draws it from them, carving new scars into flesh.
It started as an insult of honor; a disrespect of the word "no", and a call to Apologize. The Instigator refused, drawing his axe and flipping a table. This cleared the floor. We were all poised to Adjudicate, but elders lay claim, and the sea captain called dibs.
Calm and collected, Micah took his space across the room, helping others away first. An older gentleman was taking his time, so the Slate turned to carry him to the edge. It was here the Instigator charged, eager to cut down a man of the Queen's Favor. But Micah is fast; everyone knows him to be. An expert of the breath between cuts.
In a flash of green, the axe flies from the man's grasp, embedding in the floor. A millisecond later, a gash appears on his left cheekbone. Such grace, such flash! A few claps chitter through the room as our reverend captain holds up one withered hand, "First Blood!"
The clapping stops as the big man sneers at the crowd, then sizes up his opponent. Micah, The Green Flame, stares back, his sword sheathed once more. "Your Dishonorable Form is noted."
Unimpressed, the big man spits in his face. "Note that." He growls and clomps back to his axe, hefting it back up onto his shoulder.
"Do you Apologize?"
The Big Man surveys the room, his rotten smile pulling at the sides of his mouth. I swear he makes a biting motion toward one of the girls - my friend, Bonnie. I feel my hand clench in anger around the wooden ladle in my hand, the wood whining against the pressure. "Easy, Jules." A firm hand claps onto my shoulder. Henrick, the owner of the Ravenwatch. "I know you're gunnin' ter Squireship, but you ain't built like it yet. The Slate is here; let it play out."
"No piece of strix here deserves an apology from the likes of me. I own this strip, I grew up here. With the licks I've taken, it is these buckets of filth that owe me!" He leers more at the crowd, taking a step toward Bonnie, who flips her tray and draws her dagger, flipping it face down. She's so cool. The Big Man seems amused. "Well would' ya look at that, you DO want to play with me..." And he charges her.
Another flash of green and the Big Man's on his back, fresh blood pooling at his bicep. He had taken two steps before Micah cut him off. "In case you didn't notice, your duel is with me. Your Dishonorable Focus is noted." Micah turns back to the captain, who nods, raising a hand.
The cheer rings out, "SECOND BLOOD!"
Micah's green blade stays drawn this time, his smile hardening to a cold glare. "I am prepared to kill you. Are you prepared to die?"
The Big Man's smile fades. "Fine." He turns to Bonnie and makes a big show of bowing to her. "Sorry for insulting your honor, and for bringing your mother into it. I. Was. Wrong." And with that, he picks up his axe, and leaves. A moment passes while Micah watches him and sheathes his sword. Then, we erupt in applause.
Micah buys everyone a round and receives a few handshakes before returning to his table. I feel Henrick press two steins into my hands and all but kick me in the Slate's direction. Old coot pushes so hard I lose my bloody balance and stumble right toward the table...but I don't hit.
"Easy there, buddy." Strong hands have caught me, and easily right my stunned form. "It's Jules, right?" Micah takes the two steins while I search for a reply.
"Ah, uh..." I wait for him to get bored with me so I can escape...but he's still staring at me a good ten seconds later. Say something, you idiot, or he'll think you're a mute! "Ah...yeah, kinda."
"Alright then, Jules Kinda. You work on that stutter you'll make an excellent Whisper someday."
I can feel the sweat already moistening the top of my head as my cheeks flush. Say it, say it, you moron, say it! I close my eyes, grab my dreams by the balls, and shout way too loudly. "I'D LIKE TO BE YOUR SQUIRE, LIR MICAH!"
I think Bonnie dropped a dish, or maybe it was Henrick coughing, but the room becomes still. Everything is quiet, save for the creaking boards under my shaking boot. Cursed left leg, shut up! I feel a hand touch my shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze. I squint my eyes open, face all scrunched up from embarrassment...and Micah's still watching me, beaming from ear to ear, hazel eyes warming me to my soul. "I'm honored, Jules. But I don't take Squires anymore. Ask around, though, I know of a few Slates willing to give you a Knight's Favor." He taps my stunned shoulder a few more times before heading back to his seat.
"Ack!" Apparently I'd been standing there a good five minutes staring at the floor, because Bonnie just smacked me.
"Get back to work, dreamer..."
It's late by the time Bonnie leaves. She gives me her usual hug and wink before gathering her things. Still a little starstruck, I've been slow in my chores, and she instead opts to help by sweeping so I can take the damn grease bucket out. It's been filling and boiling most of the dinner wave, so I don my Henrick's mitts and hoist the heavy pot out back.
I almost trip and eat strix down the stairs, still slick with the morning's grease and some stray liquor. "Gross..." As I investigate how badly my boots are sticking, a sound makes me freeze on the corroded stairs.
Clashing steel, followed by hushed voices. They're close. A duel? Stay still. I listen a little longer, the pot getting hot in my hands. A pained sound. Wait for First Blood. But there's no call. No Adjudicator? Wait, that means...
Against my better judgement, I inch around the corner stone, and I feel my eyes widen.
The Big Man, plus two others, blades drawn and hand-axes out, have surrounded someone. Whoever it is, they're having a hellova time drawing First Bl-
With a burst of green flame, one of the men is hurled backwards, fresh burns and lacerations coursing over his chest. Most of him charred but a few feet from me, he twitches, hurt but alive. With another flourish, I watch an armored mantle of green embers settle upon The Green Flame himself, defending his life against a band of Brutes. This was no duel. This was a three-on-one fight; a duel without honor.
The charred one stirs, reaching into his coat and pulling a vile of red dust, pressing to his lips. He downs it in a moment, chewing the ruby shards and I watch his injuries disappear as he draws a wicked curved dagger dripping with poison from a hidden sheath. He dashes forward behind the Big Man's shadow. Micah won't see him in time!
"Lir Micah, look out!" The words had already echoed against the brick and danced their jig along the stone before my better judgement could catch them, and I flinch at the flying sparks of clashing steel. In a haze, I look up with dread to see...Micah parry the blow, running the man through with an extra burst of fire. I grin stupidly, before a meaty hand smacks me across the face.
I stagger backwards, my thoughts swimming, and stare into the angry golden eyes of the Big Man from before. He cracks his knuckles and bears down on me.
So I pour the grease on him.
Cooled and half-congealed, the grease spills out in slippery slabs, coating the ground in front of me. The Big Man, with all his momentum, steps once, twice, and falls flat on the cobblestone with a crack. I let out a giddy giggle, shocked by my own victory.
And then something hits me square in the gut.
"No!" Micah yells more my way, but I can't make it out. Everything's fuzzy. So I take a deep breath...except I can't.
"Hey! Hey man." A clatter of steel. Something was dropped. "I give up. I wish to cross." I look up, vision blurring. The last man falls to his knees, begging, hands up. "I wish to cross! Please, I-" and then Micah cuts his hand off, blood pouring out from the stump. "You have to keep it open, you have to -- ygergk!" He sputters as the blade, brimming with arcane acid, plunges through his heart.
The Slate leans in close, but I hear the whisper. "The Door was always open. You closed it the moment you threw a knife at a child."
Hands trembling, I grasp the hilt embedded in my stomach. It's a long blade; I wonder if it went all the way through. I bet Bonnie would love to have it in her collection. "Lir Micah..." I pull it out.
He remembered my name. It's the wrong name. I have to...
He takes my hands in his, warm blood spreading down my legs. I slide down the cold brick, and sit with my eyes locked on his. With life flowing out of me, I lend all that I am to this moment. "Please... Please... It's Julien. Julien Tiana..." His brow furrows, and he nods gravely. Propping me up as best he can, he takes a knee before me, plunging his blade into the Big Man's corpse. He rests its edge on my shoulder, wiping the blood upon the cloth. I feel the tears well up; I've been given a great honor already, but then he begins speaking.
With this your first blood, I impart the Knight's Favor upon thee.
It is your choice to accept the bond of the Three.
To uphold the Gentlemen's Code,
To draw when the Name is forsaken,
To suffer the words of Ill and Grave,
And to leave the Door open, until it must be closed.
If you accept these terms, in your heart and your soul,
Then my Squire you are, and you are not alone.
"Then rest, Sir Julien Tiana. We will face many foes tomorrow."
And as the tendrils of pain and red fade to numb and black, I am content to join them at the gates. I feel the smile tuck at the corners of my face, wet with tears. I am eager to take up arms... Tomorrow. Yes. Just, let me rest a bit. I am so very tired...
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