Friday, August 30, 2019

Worth Fighting For, Chapter 7

Terra and Blynn knelt on the other side of the spread, gaping at the sword. “Are you serious?” Terra asked.

“No wonder they’re impervious to corrosion,” Hyren said. “And I’m guessing the blades don’t dull, either.” He gave it a few test swings and relished the singing of metal through air mingled with a faint hum of magic. “Amazing. I’ve never seen one of these in the flesh before.”

“Then how do you know about ‘em?” Blynn asked. “Aren’t you from space? Why do you know so much about Neopia?”

The commander paused after a stroke to look down at her. “Just because I’ve never been here, doesn’t mean I’m ignorant about this world,” he said. “Sloth has had scouts and spies combing this planet since far before his first takeover attempt. And I make a point of never landing somewhere unless I’ve done my research first.” He put the sword back in its sheath and the blade made a satisfying sound against the hardened leather. He’d found his compensation. He motioned to Terra and Blynn to head back out, gripping the hilt of his newfound prize as he tried to figure out how to carry the rest.

“I want one,” Terra said, staring down at the blades.

Hyren paused. “You’re not a fighter.”

She looked up at him and said, “You could teach me. Please? I’ve always wanted to learn to use a sword.”

“I want one too!” Blynn said.

A panicked grimace flew over Hyren’s face, and he turned to hover over the weapons protectively. “You’re not a battling pet!”

“How come you get one and we don’t?!” the Zafara asked. “That’s not fair!”

“Because I know how to use one and you don’t!” Hyren said.

“So?! What does that have to do with it?!” Blynn said. “I’m taking one.” She plunged a paw toward one of the swords.

“No!” Hyren said, lunging for her.

“Stop!” Terra said, putting a hand on each of their shoulders. “Please stop fighting!” The owner looked up at Hyren and his antennae lowered. “Why can’t we have weapons?” Terra asked. “What if Blynn and I need to defend ourselves? We’ll be really good with them, we promise. We just need you to teach us how to use them correctly.”

I’ll defend you,” Hyren said, jabbing a thumb onto his chestplate. “I’m not incompetent.”

“Says the guy who almost got caught in a cave-in,” Blynn said.

“I know you can protect us,” Terra said. “But—it would be nice to have something just in case. I mean… what if you needed protecting?”

Hyren wrinkled his noseless face. “I’m a better fighter than anything on this planet.”

“Better than cave-ins?” Blynn asked.

Hyren grimaced, and reached up and scratched the back of his neck. “You know what I mean.”

“We wouldn’t keep them forever,” Terra said. “We’d just use them until we got somewhere safe, and then we’d give them back to you. I’ve never gotten to wield a sword before. It would be nice to, just for a little while.”

Hyren did feel like he owed her something, especially after she had saved his life more than once. “Okay,” he sighed. “Okay. One weapon each. And I get to pick them,” he added as Blynn moved for the sword again. “At least let the expert judge which one is right for your size and personality.”

Kneeling on the floor again, Hyren placed his hands on his knees and surveyed each of the weapons thoughtfully, rubbing his chin and gently tugging on one antenna from time to time. His mind-controlled troops were all issued identical standard armament—he’d never had to select custom weaponry for anyone before. There was a wide range to choose from, and he happened to be something of a weapon guru, both as part of his job and just for fun.

Finally, he picked up a shortsword and presented it to Terra. “I think this one should do nicely for you, if you’re so keen on learning swordplay,” he said. The weapon was probably crafted for a mid-sized pet like a Lupe or a Blumaroo, with intricate patterns on the crossguard and a sturdy leather grip. It would have made a fine complement to his own claymore.

Which made Hyren more than a little hurt when Terra regarded the blade with ill-disguised disappointment. She tried to force a smile up her face as she took it from him, and held the scabbard in both hands with a resigned sigh. “Thanks,” she said.

“What?” Hyren asked.

“Well…” Terra looked at his own blade. “I wanted a big sword.”

Hyren chuckled. She really did have no experience with weaponry. “Fine, then. Try out this one,” he said, handing her one of the larger swords, “and let’s see you do a few practice swings with it.”

Terra placed the shortsword aside and eagerly accepted the second offering. Her eyes bulged as she realised its full weight, and she struggled just to lift it into her unlearned approximation of a ready position.  

She hesitantly began a clumsy swing, her scrawny arms working hard just to raise the blade. Letting it fall was easier, but she botched the follow-through horribly and the tip clanged on the floor, making her cringe. Puffing out her cheeks, she attempted to lift the sword again, but her labors only lasted for a few seconds before she slumped and handed the hilt back to the commander.

He took it and laid the sword back in its place like a doting gardener planting a prized flower. “Now you see why I gave you a shortsword,” he said. “The weapon has to fit the warrior. There’s no sense in decking yourself out with the biggest, flashiest weapons if you can’t even use them.  The only way a weapon is ever really effective is when it’s wielded by the right person.” Teaching them was fun, Hyren had to admit to himself. Why did just being around them make him so happy?

With a sigh, Terra picked up the shorter blade again and pulled it out of its sheath. She turned it over in her hand, gauging its weight. A look of satisfaction grew in her eyes, and she buckled the belt over her shirt and showed it off proudly to Blynn. Hyren was quite pleased, himself, that his judgement was sound. The blade fit her well.

“My turn, what about me?!” Blynn asked.

“For you… I’m thinking this,” the commander said. He reached into the assortment of weapons and pulled out an elegantly crafted slingshot, complete with its own holster and a matching belt.

“That’s not a sword,” the Zafara said.

“You never specifically asked for a sword,” Hyren said. “I’ve seen how you fight. You’re quick and tricky, and prefer to keep your distance from your opponents. I think you’d do better with a ranged weapon like this.”

“Yeah, I think he’s right,” Terra said. “That seems perfect for you!”

“Besides,” Hyren said, “it makes you a good counterpart to Terra’s and my melee fighting.”

Blynn looked the slingshot over, tugging on the leather pocket to test out the elasticity of the attached rubber strips. “I don’t get what’s so special about it. You and Terra get cool magic swords. I could make something like this myself.”

“Look closer—it’s got faerie runes on it as well,” Hyren said. “I think the fact that it’s survived in here for centuries with no deterioration is testament to its being enchanted. It probably possesses other properties that we have yet to discover.”

“Huh… I guess that’s pretty cool,” Blynn said, putting the weapon in its holster and fastening it around her waist. “What’s this pouch on the other side of the belt for?”

“Storing projectiles,” Hyren said. “Basically anything small and round, like pebbles or acorns.”

“Or codestones,” Blynn said.

“Codestones aren’t that small!” Terra said, looking alarmed.

“I bet I could still use ‘em with this thing, though!” the Zafara said.

Hyren let them debate the acceptability of various random objects as projectiles, while he searched the room further and found a large piece of cloth and a length of rope. He rolled the remaining weapons into the cloth and tucked the ends tightly, and then used the rope to tie the bundle across his back. These magical artefacts were possibly worth more than everything in that throne room combined. He could not let them waste away here.

He turned back to the two youngsters and said, “I think we should pack up and move on.”

“Okay, what about slushies, can I shoot slushies?” Blynn asked Terra.

“Why in the world would you want to shoot slushies?!” Terra asked. She looked up at Hyren with an exasperated smile. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

Moral dilemmas didn’t happen for Hyren often. It wasn’t something he usually thought about. Right now, though, he currently faced a very painful dilemma. He could no longer deny that he enjoyed his odd little company. It made him feel all the more terrible about making them a promise he fully intended to break. But he could not abandon Sloth, the man who made Hyren what he was, and everything that Hyren had built up working for him. Hyren didn’t know at this point which path would cause him the least regret. 

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