Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Rescuing Grimblade

By Adam E. Falk and Andrea Wilson
(Y73)

It is early evening, the sun just beginning to set, when Wyheree is surprised by the intrusion of a psychic message upon her mind:

>Wyheree, this is Xenograg. I need your help, urgently! A life is at stake. Combat a possibility. Come to Dojo Darelir. I will wait for you as long as I can.<

After taking a minimum of time to prepare, Wyheree phase-travels to the street outside the Dojo. Two armed guards stand outside the open gate—something she has never seen before. Wyheree is recognized and invited in. The gate is closed behind her.

She is dressed for travel: a simple ivory cotton blouse sashed with black satin from shoulder to hip, well-worn doeskin breeches, soft yet sturdy boots, with a dark woolen cloak overtop. Her steps are quick and light, carrying her to the study—her first guess for where Xenograg would be.

“Kensei, are you here? I arrived as quickly as I could. Is all well?” There is no answer for several long moments. The inner door of the study opens, and Xenograg steps into the room. He is dressed in a charcoal grey knee-length topcoat with a yellow sash around the waist, grey trousers, and black boots. The most important difference tonight is a hauberk of mail that Wyheree can see peek through at the cuffs and hem of his topcoat; she raises a pale brow a bit at that. Xenograg greets her warmly.

“Wyheree, thank you for coming,” he greets her. “All is well here, but less so elsewhere.”

“What has happened?”, she asks with concern. “The urgency of your summons, I feared the Dojo was under attack.” Xenograg smiles in an attempt to ease her anxiety.

“Nothing that perilous. There is one life in danger, and I seek your help to save it.”

“Whatever help you need, it is yours, Kensei.”

“With the assassination of the Emperor of Demodar, others were also marked for death.”

“Those of his House and his allies?” is Wyheree’s conjecture. Xenograg nods.

“One of them was a student of mine. He has declared himself an enemy of the usurper and has been hunted these last weeks.” A troubled frown crosses Wyheree’s face.

“But did you not tell me you cannot go to Demodar?”

“I said I am forbidden to interfere,” is Xenograg’s correction. “But I have won permission to assist Grimblade.” Wyheree does not ask for the details, as the result is far more important.

“What would you have me do to help you, Kensei?”

“I have been watching after Grimblade. He has fled into the mountains, but he is hunted by many.”

“And you fear he will be found and executed.”

“Yes, unless we find him first. So we are going to go and rescue him—bring him here to the Dojo, to Rhydin. You double my chances of locating him.” Wyheree nods her understanding, already moving toward the door.

“We leave at once?” Xenograg holds up his hand, causing the Ice Mage to stop and turn to face him. He turns and reaches over the small couch in the study. Pulling free a robe of the same charcoal-grey color as his topcoat, he tosses it to Wyheree.

“Take this.” With a curious tilt of her head, she catches the robe, holding it up.

“What is this, Kensei?”

“I will explain shortly. Follow.” He leads back through the inner door to the dojo proper, but takes two immediate left turns down a narrow hallway. After tucking the robe under her arm, Wyheree follows him, seeing the obvious doorway at the end of the hall, but Xenograg stops midway down the passage.

“Another trap door, Kensei?” Wyheree says with a slight grin, remembering the admonishment he had given her about never going for the obvious exit. Xenograg smiles. He performs the necessary steps to open the secret door to the secret stair, and they descend to the small sanctum. Once they enter the sanctum, Xenograg speaks.

“Put the robe on, and I will explain.” Wyheree unfastens her cloak, setting it aside in order to tug the grey robe over her head, listening as Xenograg continues to speak. “Grey is the color of mourning. We also bury the dead in it. I faked my death in Demodar. When Grimblade sees me, he will believe I am a walking spirit. To differentiate you from the hunters, you should appear likewise.”

“That is understandable—though I admit the robe reminds me of my days as a student, long ago.”

“Play the role to all you encounter,” Xenograg concludes, “friend and foe. We will avoid the hunters if possible.” Wyheree nods her understanding, smoothing the robe over her clothing. After a moment, she raises a question that has been niggling at her since Xenograg’s summons.

“Grimblade…that is his given name?” she asks, and Xenograg smiles.

“No. It is an old custom to refer to warriors by the name of their weapon.”

“That is a chilling name for a weapon, Kensei,” she comments as she finishes settling the robe over her clothing.

“He bears a famous sword,” Xenograg shrugs, then continues on. “He is young; only twenty or so summers.” Wyheree’s eyes widen, concern further filling them.

“Very young indeed, to be so hunted.”

“We seek Renak thu-Botalir. Should you find him first, do speak his full name. And mine.” He moves closer to her. “I have one more item for you.” She closes her eyes, murmuring the name to commit it to memory, opening them as Xenograg approaches.

“What is it, Kensei?” Xenograg takes out a small, gold triangular amulet upon a thin chain, and holds it out to Wyheree. She reaches out to take the amulet, turning it over in her slender hands to examine it, noting the different symbol in each corner.

“Is this a part of the burial ritual?” She muses, still studying the amulet with keen interest. Xenograg shakes his head, then gestures for her to put it on.

“You will need this to accompany me, and will assist you in this task. The most important thing this talisman will do is allow you to speak and understand my native language. Grimblade does not speak this Common tongue.” Wyheree again nods in understanding, and slips the chain over her head, taking a moment to detangle her pale hair from the delicate chain, settling the amulet overtop the robe. Xenograg speaks a few words in his native, tonal language that Wyheree cannot understand, the words sounding harsh to ears accustomed to the more melodic-sounding tongues spoken in her realm. After a moment, he instructs in Common.

“Now hold the amulet flat, between your thumb and third finger, then release.” She holds the amulet as Xenograg instructs, and her fingers tingle as magic ripples through them. Xenograg smiles as he speaks again.

“How do I sound now?”

“I can understand you perfectly, Kensei.”

“And I, you. It will remain in effect for quite some time, or until you press it again the same way to turn off the effect.”

“A most excellent piece of craftsmanship, Kensei,” Wyheree says with a smile. He holds out his hands, grim determination set in his jaw.

“We must go now. Take my hands.” Wyheree reaches out and takes both of his hands in hers. “Close your eyes.” She does so, and takes a breath; the only sound she hears is the sound of Xenograg’s voice. “Amulet of the Guardian, harken to me. I am Xenograg; for me, the Gate will open.” She feels the amulet she wears grow warm through the robe with emminating power, surprising her, but not being so unpleasant as to trigger her ice magics.

There is a lurching shift, and the consistency of the ground beneath her feet is now less solid. She hears a thrumming sound, too. Xenograg lets go of her hands.

“You can open your eyes,” he instructs. Slowly, Wyheree’s eyes flutter open. She realizes she is standing upon the packed sand of a beach, the crashing surf muffled by the thrumming sound. Beside them on the beach stand two thick pillars twenty feet high and twenty feet apart. A curtain of energy hangs between them, which she pinpoints as the source of the thrumming. Behind the gate, Wyheree sees a rising mountain and, out to sea in every direction, a storm band. The pillars capture her attention immediately.

“A literal gate….”

“Yes, this is the World Gate of my dimension.” Xenograg has walked away from her towards a stone block nearby.

“It is truly incredible.” Wyheree follows to stand by Xenograg at the block, after casting one last look at the gate. The stone block has a sloped face and three recesses: one triangular, and two for splayed hands. “This is how we will return?” She mused, studying the block.

“Yes. We must always pass through here from and to Rhydin.” Xenograg answers before setting his hands into the recesses for them. He peers upon the Gate with a look of concentration. The energy curtain flickers and changes as Wyheree watches, her keen interest in the magic plainly seen on her face. Xenograg mutters as he works. “I do not want…to place us too close to…anyone… There!” Wyheree nods in understanding, watching as Xenograg lifts his hands from the stone.

“I do not expect any sorcerers amongst the hunters, or none in our class. Nonetheless, be wary.”

“Perhaps an adept, at best?”

“If you mean a journeyman, yes. I could be wrong, though.”

“It would depend on how desperate the usurper is to catch your student.” Wyheree nodded, hoping that her Kensei’s instinct was accurate.

“We will split up. If you find Grimblade, contact me by touching the amulet’s face with three fingers.” Xenograg demonstrates by touching three fingers to his amulet. >Like this,< he thinks to her, which she hears clearly. He then lets go of his amulet.

“So you will hear me speak?”

“You can project your thoughts without actually verbalizing them.” He continues with his instructions. “Talk to him or not, depending on the situation. Help him avoid the hunters until I can get there and open a portal back here.” Wyheree realizes she has forgotten to ask probably the most important question.

“What does he look like—besides hunted?”

“Young. Smaller than me, with my coloring; surely to be the only man alone.” Xenograg pauses, then adds, “Oh, he will be carrying the sword scabbard in his left hand. That will be distinctive.”

“Like you but without the grey.” She flashes Xenograg a quick saucy grin, which he tries to return without much success. Wyheree swiftly matches his seriousness, asking another question. “His scabbard is similar to yours?”

“Yes, rigid wood rather than leather. It can be used to parry attacks.” Xenograg speaks after a long pause. “This time, we simply walk through the curtain,” Wyheree nods, and takes a slow, steadying breath.

“I am ready, Kensei.” Xenograg draws his sword. With Wyheree at his heels, he strides over to and through the curtain. There is no disorientation like the first time. It is dusk here in the mountains.

“Damn! It is getting dark here.” The weather is cold and overcast, but the cold does not phase an Ice Mage like Wyheree in the slightest. Xenograg gives one last series of instructions. “Grimblade has to stay below the snowline for fear of leaving a trail.”

“Do you have an idea where he might shelter?”

“He should be close, but I do not know whether to the left or right. You go right.” Wyheree nods, stepping to veer right as Xenograg continues to speak.

“He will not risk a fire, so he must seek shelter: a cave, grotto, or tree.”

“A fire would be a beacon to the hunters…” Xenograg shrugs his shoulders at her statement, then continues.

“Expect him to be on edge—razor’s edge. He should respond to my name, if you should find him.”

“So I should tell him I am with you?” Wyheree asks as she slowly picks her way up the rocks.

“Yes. My people venerate ancestors. He will be inclined to believe you.” Xenograg then starts moving left, loathe to fly without first getting his bearings. Wyheree continues to carefully pick her way to the right, looking over her shoulder at Xenograg.

“I will not fail you in this, Kensei.”

“He is not a Dojo student, but he is a student of mine,” Xenograg says, and smiles.

“They will not catch him, I promise you that.” With that vow, Wyheree continues away from Xenograg, heading along a narrow ridge. Snowflakes swirl in the breeze, glimmering in the deepening twilight. She pauses as her robe trails the ground, a slight frown on her face. Reaching underneath the gray fabric, she tugs loose the knot of the black sash, lovingly touching the satin as she reties it about her waist, hiking up the hem of the robe so as not to trip. Unfamiliar terrain is hazard enough without catching a heel on the hem of the robe.

A faint cry makes her increase her speed, moving swiftly. The snowfall worsens but the flakes do not obscure her vision. Another hue and cry, louder this time, makes her increase her speed further. Wyheree knows only one reason for anyone to be out in the conditions she herself favored, and it was up to her to stop the hunters.

As she comes over a ridge, Wyheree can see the source of the shouting—a small group of bowmen, led by a bigger man wielding a sword. Farther ahead she hears faint crashing sounds like steel on steel—a fight, probably further up the slope. The snow dances about her as her eyes take on a silver glow. The light snowfall thickens, coalescing into a cone of pure white cold that is launched with a wave of Wyheree’s hand towards the bowmen. She aims a touch wide, for her object is to gain their attention.

The blast slams into the ground with a concussive wave that knocks the rear guardsman right off his feet and sprawling into a snow-covered boulder where he lay still. The rest of the guard, a half-dozen men, turn towards the impact. They begin tracking the blast upwards but Wyheree is nowhere to be seen. The only disturbance the men see is a swirl of powdery snow. Wyheree uses the snow cover to move away from the fighting she still hears in the distance. With her arms raised high and wide over her head, the blizzard winds shear down the mountain, again aimed wide to draw their attention. The men cry out in pain as the ice-laced winds slice into the exposed flesh of their hands and faces, leaving some of the men with bloody cuts.

After the winds die down, the men turn for the source. All were chosen for their knowledge of the mountains. The blizzard winds do not match the weather conditions, and the men grow suspicious. At the leader’s order, the bowmen ready arrows and move towards the origin of the wind. Wyheree allows the hunters to see her this time, looking like the Mage she is: pale hair dancing in the winds swirling about her body, the gray robe all but obscured by the increasing amount of snow and ice radiating from deep within her. The swordsman raises his blade to order an attack while Wyheree raises her hands and opens her arms wide. With silver eyes blazing in cold white fire, a truly arctic blast levels the trees, the undergrowth, the hunters; nothing before her remains standing. Broken twigs encased in ice are all that remain.

Shouts catch Wyheree’s attention anew, and she turns to continue up the mountain. Steel clashing with steel gets louder as she approaches. A young man is cornered near the mouth of a cave, penned in by another group of hunters. Fallen bodies attest to the soloist’s skills, but Wyh sees the telltale signs of wounds and fatigue as he blocks and counters again and again with his sword and scabbard. Wyheree immediately raises her hand and sends cutting winds between the hunters and their prey, blinding and disorienting them. The hunters squint through the sudden squall, trying to find the young man. Wyheree’s eye glow silver, her focus on the ground in front of her. Under her gaze, ice spreads over the ground in a freezing a path to the hunters. By the time the winds die down, the hunters’ legs are encased in ice ascending past their knees. The ice swiftly traveling up to cover hips, chests, arms, heads. The men are now sculptures of crystalline ice. Wyheree extends her right hand and turns her palm up. Within a moment the ice races from the hunters’ bodies and the ground to swirl about the extended hand. A milky glowing sphere coalesces and hovers abover her palm. When all of the ice has been retrieved, Wyheree absorbs the sphere back into herself. A slight breeze crumbles the remains of the hunters into dust.

The area is quiet as Wyheree nears the cave. Ducking through the entrance, she can now hear raspy breathing within. Suddenly remembering her instructions, Wyheree takes up the amulet in her hand. She touches the face of it with three fingers as Xenograg showed her, closes her eyes, and concentrates.

>Kensei, I have found Grimblade. He has retreated into a shallow cave where the forest thins. I shall keep him here and guard him until you arrive.<

Releasing the amulet, Wyheree calls forth a small globe of ice over her hand. Its faint glow allows her see the inside of the cave more clearly. She slowly makes her way further inside, moving very quietly and listening for each draw of breath. When the passageway opens up into a chamber of sorts, she finally gets a good look at the young man. He is leaning against the wall opposite her. Blood traces a dried line down his cheek and more mars his tunic in the crease of his elbow. A glance quickly finds the yellow sash Xenograg described—smeared with mud and grime, but enough of the color visible to be recognized. His sword glints in the dim light as he points the blade at her. Wyheree holds out her free hand palm up to show she is unarmed, moving slowly towards him.

“Renak thu-Botalir?”

The cave is only a few feet wide. Grimblade stands crouched in a side-on stance, right side leading. His sword is held horizontally at throat level with point forward. The rigid scabbard in Grimblade’s left hand is held horizontally above his head with its chape aimed forward. He is unsure of the light source in the hand of this new assailant. Wyheree pauses in her approach. She keeps her right hand extended palm up and the left still kept with her icy light.

“I mean you no harm,” she says in what is obviously a woman’s voice. Grimblade peers hard, and his eyes agree with his ears: a woman standing about his own height.

“Stand aside, woman!” he growls. Though Grimblade’s voice is not deep, it is full of contempt. He takes a tactical step forward before noticing she is dressed in the gray robes of mourning though sashed with black. Wyheree tilts her head a little at his order and shifts her feet to actively block Grimblade from the exit. Anger alights in his eyes. He swings the scabbard to knock her aside. Her own eyes flicker with a silver light as she uses a short burst of chill winds to deflect the strike. His eyes widen in momentary fear.

“Sorcerer!” he cries. Wyheree tries to maintain an unthreatening appearance.

“I mean you no harm,” she repeats. “But you must stay here until Xenograg arrives. He is coming.” Grimblade begins a thrust with his sword but falters at the name of Xenograg.

“Xenograg? He is dead! I killed him!” declares the young man. ‘If he is coming,’ he thinks, ‘then what is she?’ He cannot think of anything but that question.

“What are you?” he demands. Wyheree blinks once, twice; his response is nothing what she expected. Grimblade is quite disturbed. A pale-skinned woman with white hair in grey robes is an otherworldly sight to him. He takes a tactical step back. “What do you want?”

“I wish only to see you safely to Xenograg,” is her answer. “He charged me with finding you and keeping you safe until he arrives.”

“So you say.” He glances over her shoulder towards the exit. Wyheree guesses he is seeing if she is alone.

“The hunters are no more,” she informs him. At that moment Wyheree receives another psychic message from Xenograg.

>Wyh, I am here.< She nods her head even though he cannot see her acknowledgment.

“He is here,” she tells Grimblade.

“He is dead!” he yells again, but both he and Wyheree can hear someone enter the cave. Grimblade reverses his stance to lead with his left side. The scabbard is held pointed out in front of his body. The sword is still horizontal but at shoulder level, ready to thrust. A call comes strongly through the cave in a voice recognizable by both Grimblade and Wyheree.

“Hail, Grimblade!” Xenograg comes to stand behind Wyheree. She turns sideways to allow him to pass, but keeps her focus upon the volatile young man in front of her. Xenograg holds his sheathed sword by its carved wooden scabbard in his left hand. At the left elbow of Xenograg’s grey robe are two dark wet spots—wiped-off blood.

“He is wounded, Xenograg,” Wyheree informs him. “but not gravely.” Xenograg nods.

“You have done well, Renak,” Xenograg says to the young man. “I am proud of you.”

“Proud of me?!” is Grimblade’s whine. “My life is in ruins! Your son murdered the emperor! My life is forfeit!” Wyheree casts a glance back to Xenograg, hardly able to believe what she is hearing.

“I know, boy,” replies Xenograg in a calm voice. “That is why I am here. The gods have decreed that you are to live.” Grimblade blinks, hearing yet another crazy thing.

“The gods sent you to me?” Xenograg frowns a little.

“I just said so.”

“Why?”

“A question for another time. We can take you to safety, if you will join us.” Grimblade slowly lowers his weapons, still trying to grasp the situation. He asks one more cynical question.

“Where is safe for me?”

“I will take you somewhere Kenograg cannot dream of reaching,” Xenograg’s manner has become very grim and hard. “Time grows short, though. What is your answer, boy?”

“I am not a boy!” Grimblade declares indignantly. At that, Xenograg pauses.

“True,” concedes Xenograg, “you are not. You are the Grimblade. And the Grimblade has a purpose. You matter.” Renak the Grimblade blinks at that. “Come, Grimblade. You will have food and rest and answers.” Grimblade’s face betrays his weariness upon hearing that. Xenograg steps close to the young man.

“Renak?” asks Xenograg in a soft voice.

“Yes, Master?” Grimblade’s answer being almost reflex.

“Trust me.” At that, Grimblade sighs.

“Yes, Master.”

“Here, put this on.” instructs Xenograg as he holds out a golden triangular amulet identical to the one Wyheree wears. Grimblade slowly sheathes his sword, his shaking hands making the action less than routine. Only now does Wyheree relax her guard. Grimblade takes the amulet in his right hand then realizes he needs two hands to put it on. He quickly looks at Xenograg with suspicion. Xenograg frowns.

“Trust. Me.” Grimblade slowly places the sheathed sword Grimblade into Xenograg’s open hand. Xenograg holds it without moving it, ready for Grimblade to take it back at any moment. Grimblade quickly puts the chain over his head and takes back his sword. Xenograg smiles softly. “That is the first time I have ever held Grimblade. Thank you.” Xenograg then turns sideways to stand on Grimblade’s left.

“Wyh?”

“Yes, Kensei?” Xenograg gestures her to approach him. She does so with some—warranted—caution.

“All hold hands.” Xenograg touches Grimblade’s hand where it holds his scabbard. Wyheree turns her left hand over, dispelling the ice globe before offering her hand to Renak. She lays her right hand over Xenograg’s scabbard-holding left fist. Grimblade hesistantly takes Wyheree’s hand; he notices her skin is very cool to the touch.

“Close your eyes,” Xenograg tells them. Grimblade flinches at the idea of further lowering his defenses, but complies. Wyheree waits until Grimblade has done so before doing so herself.

“I am the Guardian,” Xenograg intones. “Return me.” The magic activates, and the disorientation effect is again felt.

“Open your eyes,” Xenograg tells them. Wyheree sees they are back on the Ancient Isle, standing before the thrumming World Gate. Grimblade stares at Xenograg, his eyes wide.

“Guardian? You are a Guardian, chosen of…the gods…”, he trails off in awe. Xenograg smirks.

“As I said,” he says and moves to again stand at the altar. Wyheree stays silent, still absorbing all she has learned. Grimblade locks his eyes upon Wyheree.

“Are you a Guardian?” he asks. The question catches her off-guard, and it shows in her eyes.

“I am not a Guardian; not in the way Xenograg is.”

“What are—” Xenograg bruskly interrupts Grimblade’s question, though.

“Where are you manners, Grimblade?” Grimblade’s head snaps to look at Xenograg a moment before lowering in obeisance. Grimblade turns back to Wyheree.

“I am Grimblade, as you know. I thank you for your succor, Lady.” Wyheree drops into a curtsey and replies.

“You are most welcome. I am glad I could assist to aid you. I am Wyheree, and to answer your question: I am an Ice Elementalist.” Grimblade blinks at the strange answer. Xenograg adds a detail.

“She is likewise my student, Grimblade.” Grimblade’s eyes soften at Xenograg’s words. He and Wyheree share that relationship, and have a bond. Then a puzzling expression comes to his face.

“You teach women, Master?” asks the young man. A brief flicker of annoyance flashes in Wyheree’s eyes.

“Many,” rebuts Xenograg. “Some are my best students. I would choose your words with more care, in future.”

“Yes, Master.” The answer comes rote and without heart, though; it does not soothe Wyheree ruffled feathers.

“All is ready,” announces Xenograg. He returns to where they stand beside the Gate. Grimblade now stares at the curtain of energy.

“Back to the Dojo, Kensei?” Wyheree asks. Xenograg nods.

“What is the Dojo?” is Grimblade’s reflex question.

“Patience, my student,” reminds Xenograg. “Want to go first, Wyheree?” She nods and steps forward.

“This is fascinating magic,” she opines. Grimblade again speaks without thought.

“Forbidden magic, if my guess is right.”

“Yes, Grimblade,” answers Xenograg, “but not for a Guardian.” Wyheree pauses at the energy gate, curious. She looks back to Xenograg.

“Forbidden?” But Wyheree’s question is ignored as Grimblade scowls at Xenograg.

“Guardians are not dead. I killed you, Master.” Xenograg locks his eyes upon Grimblade, and Wyheree can see the tension in both men.

“I will answer your questions later. You need to rest first.”

“Rest will help heal your wounds, Renak,” adds Wyheree. This, too, is ignored by Grimblade.

“No, now!” is Grimblade’s impetuous refusal. “The Emperor made me Grimblade because I killed the Grand Master, just as the original Grimblade did! Is that a lie?!” Xenograg’s eyes narrow and his jaw hardens.

“Surely this can be discussed once we are all in a truly safe place?” Grimblade appears unmoved. Xenograg sighs and answers him. “I used you to fake my own death. I chose you. I knew it would give you a reputation without peer. I also knew Theograg was looking for someone to bear the Sword.”

“It was my final gift to you. You have already proven your worthiness to the Sword. That is not a lie. You are Grimblade. You were meant to be.” Grimblade momentarily scrutizes Xenograg’s face for truthfulness then looks down at the Sword he bears. Having the opportunity to actually look at the sword, Wyheree can sense the dormant power within it. Grimblade lets out a sigh, finally.

“I am tired, Master. May we proceed to this dojo?” Wyheree looks to Xenograg, who nods. She turns and steps into the curtain of energy. Grimblade watches her intently.

“Just step through as you would a door,” is Xenograg’s instruction. Grimblade nods, gathers himself, and strides though quickly. Xenograg follows right behind, and the three are in the basement sanctum of Dojo Darelir. With a light touch to the metal frame, Xenograg deactivates the magic mirror.

“Very fascinating magic indeed….” murmurs Wyheree.

“Where are we?” asks Grimblade, his tone now of curiosity.

“Another dimension, Grimblade,” informs Xenograg. “Kenograg has neither knowledge of it nor the magic to reach it.” Grimblade’s mouth drops open at that.

“Another dimension?” Xenograg does not bother replying to that. He looks to Wyheree instead.

“Wyheree, lead the way upstairs, please.”

“Of course, Kensei.” Wyheree proceeds up the stairs and opens the secret door. Grimblade asks another of his reflex questions as he ascends.

“Kensei?”

“A title of respect I have acquired here,” Xenograg explains. “It is more appropriate than Master.” They step into the dojo hall to find an old man waiting on a bench. The man stands and bows to Xenograg. Xenograg gestures at the old man.

“Grimblade, this is Enpej. He is from Kalmarge. He speaks our language and is a physician. Go with him.” Enpej bows his head as he is introduced.

“Yes, Master,” answers Grimblade.

“Welcome, Lord Grimblade,” Enpej says. “I am at your service.” With suddenly heavy feet, Grimblade accompanies Enpej out of the dojo. Xenograg and Wyheree are alone again. Xenograg lets out his tension with a loud sigh.

“Thank you for your help, Wyheree. We saved him.”

“I am glad I was able to do so, Kensei.”

“I owe you a favor.”

“You have done so much for me, so we are even.”

“No, not on this level. I mean it.” Wyheree simply acknowledges with a nod.

Two servants enter the room, one bearing a tray with two tall glasses of water. Xenograg’s eyes brighten at the sight of the water. He holds out his scabbard which the second servant takes. Wyheree reaches for a glass of water with him. They both take long sips that end in sighs, Wyheree finishing her glass entirely. That generates a mutual chuckle. Xenograg finishes his glass in a second gulp and replaces the glass on the tray. She does likewise and the servant departs. He unties his sash and hands that over to the servant holding the scabbard. He next pulls the grey robe over his head, revealing a hauberk of exquisite shining mail. Xenograg gestures to Wyheree’s own robe with a smirk.

“You do not need the disguise anymore.”

“I have never seen you wear that before, Kensei,” she replies, gesturing back at the hauberk. She unknots the black sash carefully and keeps it in hand as she draws the robe up over her head. The servant takes the robe from her.

“This is for when fighting is certain,” is Xenograg’s explanation.

“How many did you face?”

“Six. When you told me you found Grimblade, I sought out the nearest band and butchered them—but not before allowing the leader to blow his horn summoning help.” Xenograg gives a dark smile at that.

“Did you do the same to the reinforcements?”

“No. I got the hunt sent off in the wrong direction.” She smiles and nods at the strategy while retying the sash about the waist of her blouse. Xenograg looks her straight in the eyes, though.

“I do not kill without purpose, Wyheree.” She meets his gaze then nods. He then gestures to her neck. “I will need that back before you leave.”

“Oh! I had forgotten I was wearing it.” They both smile at that. She slowly draws the chain over her head, detangling it from her pale hair.

“I trust in your discretion regarding today.”

“No one shall hear of it from my lips, Kensei,” she promises and hands over the amulet.

“You have joined a very select group: visitors to my homeland.” With the servant’s help, Xenograg pulls the mail hauberk off. He now stands in a rust-stained padded gambeson. The servant takes mail and sword away to be cleaned and stored.

“Perhaps someday I might visit when there is not a chance of fighting?”

“As much as I might like that, I doubt it. I am dead there, remember?”

“By Renak’s hand?”

“So everyone thinks.”

“What did happen, Kensei?” Xenograg gestures for them to sit as he tells the tale.

“He is a great talent, but knows it too well. He was an arrogant student.”

“I can see the arrogance still.” Xenograg nods.

“Trying to break such an attitude leads to success or challenge. He actually did the latter.” Wyheree blinks in surprise.

“He challenged you? To what end?”

“Exactly. So I taught him a lesson he would never forget. Actions have consequences beyond one’s understanding.”

“By allowing him to believe he had killed you, you hoped to break his arrogance?”

“He expected to be executed for the crime.”

“Why was he not?” Xenograg smirks as he answers.

“Precedence.”

“I do not understand. Surely the precedence would be to execute.”

“The original Grimblade killed his master at a young age, which the first Emperor saw as a mark of divine favor. I did not tell Theograg to make Renak the Grimblade, but I arranged circumstances to make it likely.”

“Now I understand.”

“It is one of the Emperor’s swords; a special vassal.”

“It felt special when I saw it.”

“All those experiences have matured Renak.”

“He fought well though hopelessly outnumbered.”

“As for his arrogance: the original Grimblade was, too, to his dying day. It was disciplined, though.”

“How did that one die?”

“Old age. So Renak made a reputation and inherited another. Both came with advantages and disadvantages as he has had to learn. He served the Emperor well, and is worthy of the role.” She nods, her fingers again drifting to the satin sash about her waist.

“The Grimblade, he would usually serve the Emperor, no matter how he came to the throne?”

“Oh, no. The original Grimblade served only the true Emperor. He denounced all the usurpers and fought to restore the rightful heir to the throne.”

“So Renak follows the path of his predecessor then?” Xenograg nods again.

“Some things are circular. Grimblade is not likely thinking that far ahead yet.”

“He will seek to restore the rightful Emperor?”

“He has been running for his life since the assassination. He only knows he is an enemy of the usurper.”

“He said something about the usurper to you, did he not?”

“I know more than he does, actually.” Wyheree stands, mulling over the events. “It is his problem, and mine,” concludes Xenograg.

“If you have further need of my help, you need only but ask, Kensei.”

“Thank you. Hopefully, there will not be further crisis. One more thing—”

“Yes, Kensei?” Xenograg stands and steps close to Wyheree.

“In doing me this favor, we have fought together. We are comrades forevermore. That is a brotherhood. And brothers—and sisters—are equals.” She nods slowly. Xenograg holds his arm out to her. She extends hers, and he grips her forearm just below the elbow; her hand naturally does the same.

“If ever you have need of me, as well.”

“I shall remember, Kensei.”

“Xenograg,” he corrects with a smile. She grins back as they release the warrior’s embrace.

“Xenograg. Though I cannot promise to stop calling you Kensei. It took this long for me to finally stop calling you Lord.”

“You have earned this. A very select group, as I said.” Wyheree nods once more.

“I am honored, Ken…Xenograg.”

“It is I who am honored. Now we should both rest. It has been a long day.”

“Indeed it has. Is there a place here I might rest before I journey home?”

“The couch in the study is the most comfortable piece of furniture in the Dojo. There are only cots upstairs.” She smiles.

“Then I shall avail myself of your couch for a time.”

“You are welcome to it. Take care, Wyheree.” With that he turns and walks out the double doors towards a small room in the back of the Dojo. The door bears very distinctive markings. Wyheree catches a glimpse of candles burning within as Xenograg closes the door behind him. She turns for the study, feeling very tired. Questions about the candlelit room will wait for another day.