The last rays of the setting sun glimmered redly through the gaps in the barn’s crude log walls. Though spectators lined each side of the practice arena, the only sounds were the scuff of the trainees’ boots in the sawdust, and the hiss of the snow falling outside.

The opponents, as innured to the cold as they were oblivious to their audience, circled cautiously. And then-

A flurry of metal and sound, appallingly loud. Blade ringing against blade against barely seen magical defenses. Strike meeting counterstrike and deflected.

At first, it might have seemed the two dark-clad warriors were equals, twin shadows. An illusion. In time, one began to push the other back, serpent-quick strikes coming closer and closer to his opponent’s skin. The other, sword floating almost lazily through the air in response, was forced to give ground steadily. A veteran swordsman would have wondered that the advancing silhouette made no attempt to guard its neck or head; could have read the set of the retreating shoulders and seen burning rage.

Back and back, until there was nowhere left to run. The end came without warning, as blade met neck with sickening finality… and the no-longer-retreating Shadar-kai finished his smooth glide past his enemy.

Silence returned. The spectators each turned, departed, until but one remained. Minutes passed, and still the victor waited impassively for judgement.

Finally, the old fanatic’s voice rasped out, metal on glass in the gloom. “He abused the rules of the exercise, took advantage. The Queen will judge him harshly.”

A breath, and a pause. “But you gave in to your anger. You are a flawed blade, not fit for Her hand. You will leave… now.”

The Raven Queen’s Voice turned, departing without hurry or fanfare. Shortly, the young warrior stood alone in the frigid darkness.


Scales of War destrin Contention