I woke to the sound of combat—countless voices cried out in pain, rage, and blood-lust. Steel rang out against steel, the meaty sounds of flesh and bone being severed echoed through the cave. I blinked away tears and dirt, pushing myself up. Goblins filled my view, but something was wrong—they were fighting amongst themselves. The picture became more clear as I saw the main combatants; Gitlog and Blacksteel stood, circling one another. Gitlog was outfitted in gleaming silver armor, multiple gashes marred the mirrored surface. Blacksteel's armor was charred and broken but he didn't seem overly hampered. He still moved with almost catlike grace, each step flowing effortlessly into the next. I did note, however, that he held only one ax, while the other lay several feet away. His left arm dangled uselessly at his side. I reached into my rucksack, pulling out a bright red health potion. I drank the revolting liquid, feeling wounds begin to close on my body. I washed it down with a mana potion, restoring the critically low levels of magic in my body.
"Henry, be careful," cautioned Vellen. "Gitlog and his forces showed up in the nick of time to save you, but the fight hasn't been going well. Even half-crippled, Blacksteel is still beating Gitlog."
Vellen's words soon proved themselves; Blacksteel surged forward suddenly, whirling his ax so quickly I could hardly see the blur. Gitlog barely managed to parry, bright sparks burst from each deflected blow of the weapon. Blacksteel roared in an expression of pure blood-lust. I winced, flinching away from the bellowing Goblin Lord. I wasn't the only one—Gitlog flinched, allowing Blacksteel an opening he didn't miss. The ax cleaved into the side of Gitlog, smashing through his finely-crafted armor. Blood fountained from the wound. Gitlog did himself credit, swinging a heavy punch into the armored head of Blacksteel. The giant staggered backwards from the weight of the blow, faltering a step. Gitlog slashed down with his massive sword, heaving with all of his might. To my surprise, Blacksteel cartwheeled away from the blow, merely laughing at the attempt.
"The human was better prey. You disappoint me, 'strongest of the chiefs' Gitlog. Let's finish this quickly so that I may finish off more worthy game," growled the giant.
Gitlog pulled out a large red phial, gulping down its contents. Metal crunched as he wrenched the heavy ax from his side, wielding the weapon lightly in his off hand.
"I'm gonna drink from yer skull, then they'll call me Lord," spat Gitlog.
Blacksteel roared with laughter. "Think so, tiny Goblin? I've killed a dozen challengers stronger than you."
I felt more of my wounds closing, mana being restored. I watched the two Goblins staring each other down, wanting desperately to jump in and help, but knowing I would die with the attempt.
Gitlog held his weapons wardingly in front of him, watching the Goblin Lord carefully. He didn't have to wait long; Blacksteel charged forward, somehow even faster than he had been before. He held himself in a classic boxer stance, unleashing a flurry of blows, shocking in their speed and fury. Gitlog struggled to block, frantically whirling his blades. For every blow he blocked, another landed. Each connection produced a sound like thunder and the crack of bones giving way.
I cursed, knowing that if my support died, I would likely follow. Despite my injuries, I managed to push myself to my feet. I noticed that the sword was left discarded on the floor several feet away. I held out my hand, calling for the weapon. It flew into my grip.
"Can I kill him, Henry?" it asked.
"That's the idea," I said.
"Blood. Blood. Blood," chanted the sword, its voice filled with menace.
"You have my shield, Henry," assured Vellen.
"I mean, that's obvious right? You're literally a shield. Why would you even say that?" scolded the book.
"Seemed like the right thing to say," Vellen replied defensively.
I rushed forward, lengthening the blade of the sword as I did. Just as I came up behind the Goblin Lord, I swung with all of my weary strength. I activated 'Sunder' infusing the blade with a blue aura of energy. Blacksteel seemed to blur just as the blade nearly made contact; the sword passed right through the shimmering afterimage. Gitlog and I looked bewildered, stunned by the sudden disappearance. The air exploded from my lungs, the light leather armor on my back doing little to absorb the titanic fist which smashed into my back. I rolled forward, end over end.
"I don't get it," said Gitlog. "You're stronger without the axes, why use em' at all?" Blood trickled down the corner of the Goblin's mouth.
Blacksteel paused, I could see a smile behind a cracked piece of his visor.
"Simple," he said, "I relish a good fight. If I fought with my fists every fight, it would be unfair. It'd be like fighting Human children, where's the fun in that?"
Gitlog and I both began to laugh at the absurdity of both the situation we found ourselves in and the truth of his words. Without his axes, he made us both look very much like children.
"Still, I must concede that you very well could have killed me with that Dragon spell. If I hadn't been warded against fire, I wouldn't have been able to regenerate enough to fight your friend here," he pointed at Gitlog.
"Some consolation then," I said, wincing with the pain of each breath. I stood again, ignoring the screaming strain in all of my muscles. I walked over to stand next to Gitlog. Blacksteel watched us with a wry grin, letting us get into a defensive position.
"Thanks for the rescue," I said.
"No thanks, I was defendin' Castle Gitlog. Ready to die, Henry?"
I nodded, raising my sword and shield. Suddenly, I felt lighter. My problems melted away, my obligation to the Order, my quest to safeguard the Empire, everything. The only thing that mattered now was this fight. I would likely die, but I would be damned to the deepest abyss if I didn't take the bastard down with me.
I felt something then, a warmth flowing through my body in a wave, the absolute certainty in my purpose feeling like liquid fire burning through my veins. The sword glowed with an inner fire, the shield began to glow in an iridescent light, the book hummed with an arcane song, the boots seemed to absorb sound, singing a song of silence. I could feel their wills mixing with mine, our minds merging ever so briefly.
I spoke in five voices combined. "Let us fight, then, our magiks will scorch you, our blade will rend you, your fists will break against our shield, and our boots will crush your throat."
Blacksteel blurred again, surging forward. I caught the blow on Vellen easily, lashing out with the sword almost at the same moment. I was met by the satisfying crunch of steel parting before my sword. Blacksteel managed to dodge from the blow in time to avoid actually being cut. I pressed the attack, followed by Gitlog. We rained blows down at the Goblin Lord. He was a viper mixed with a tornado, managing to dodge every attack, yet still launching his own in the same moments.
I noted in passing that the combat surrounding us had paused entirely, the entire combined forces of both Gitlog and Blacksteel's forced stood gawking at the display. Every cut was met with a deflection or dodge, every strike of his was caught on the face of Vellen. My gear began to dim, the strength of my arms wavered ever more slightly with each exchange. Soon, we were once again on the back foot. I swore, cursing my lack of strength. I thought back on my teachers, the other Living Weapons who were all my senior. Any one of them would be a match for this monster. I felt truly inept now, like a failure to my order.
A mighty fist crashed into both Gitlog and I's abdomens. We flew into the cavern wall, slumping onto the cold stone floor.
Blacksteel tsked, meandering towards one of his discarded axes. "I was honestly hoping for better from both of you. Still, I will grow more powerful from your deaths, so don't think of this as dying. You will live on in my memory, and in the honor that you have given my name." He hefted the wicked looking ax, holding it casually at his shoulder. "Any last words?" he asked.
"Yes," said a voice from behind the Goblin Lord. "You talk too much."
Heph pressed his hand to a rune on his finely crafted armor, a flash of light burst through the cavern.
I blinked my eyes, readjusting to the darkness of the cave. We were in a different place. Gone were the bodies of the dead chiefs, the armies surrounding us, and most importantly—no Lord Blacksteel. I slumped against the wall, Gitlog did the same.
"You both owe me, big time," said Heph, collapsed to the floor.
"What..." I cringed at the pain in my chest. "What did you do? Where are we?"
Heph grinned. "I set up this teleportation rune years ago, just in case the boss and I were in a difficult situation. We're in a safe place, my father's former workshop, and his father's before that. In fact, this is where Vellen was designed. You could call it the womb from which he was born."