The Website of Miss Alicia Yeargin

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					Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


                             [The Sharpening of the Blade]

         In the history books, there is a forgotten soul, merely a printed name and date.
This soul, though, survives not in the books but in the very heart of the thriving country
of Liam. Her name was Neva, and she was the legendary Swordslinger.
         A man of twenty-three, who had lost his wife two years earlier, went to seek
solace at the temple in the early hours of the day. The sun‟s light had not yet breached the
eastern hills, and there was a deep azure shade throughout the heavens above. Upon his
knees, the man mumbled a prayer at the statue of the holy saint of the deceased. Muffled
footsteps echoed through the temple hall as the man prayed. His primary thought was a
priest coming in for worship. As he stood to return home, he heard the small whining
noise of a crying child. He looked down the long hall and saw a large, grey wolf standing
aside a cradle.
         “Hey! Dog, get away from that child!” the man yelled.
         The wolf looked at the man with solemn eyes and then to the child. It stuck its
nose in the cradle briefly before leaping off into the nearby timberland. The man peered
at the cradle, and inside was a young child. The blanket in the cradle had „Neva‟ sewn
into it. He looked at the small baby girl and decided to take her to his home. The man,
Jeremy Brigadine, took care of her as if she was his own.
         Many years later, on a fair day, Jeremy was working in his smith‟s shop with an
apprentice while Neva organized and cleaned armor on the shelves. She was now fifteen
years old and enjoyed spending time in her father‟s shop. The numerous, dusty shelves
needed cleaning, and when new armor was made, Neva always put it upon the shelves.
She often watched Jeremy as he fashioned new blades and armor day in and day out.
Jeremy never allowed her to make any herself, for she was a woman. However, Neva still
worked in the shop happy as ever.
         The door opened and a man with stern, hazel eyes entered and browsed shortly.
He then approached Jeremy and talked for a while. The two men knew each other well,
for the village of Piliad was a not a big place.
         “Yes, it‟s a lovely pair of greaves,” the man said.
         “My apprentice here made it. It‟s good quality, but I can offer less for you,
Matthias,” Jeremy replied. The man and Jeremy agreed on a price, and he left the shop
with the greaves under his arm.
         “Hello Neva…” a voice behind her called. She knew it was Jeremy‟s apprentice,
Thomas Lowet. They had been childhood friends since Thomas‟s family moved to Piliad.
He had become the biggest flirt she‟d ever known. Thomas was a year older than she
was, and he did little else from apprentice work and bothering her.
         Neva heaved an exasperated sigh as she said, “Hello Thomas. Aren‟t you
supposed to be working or away from me somewhere?”
         He gave her a wide grin and said, “Your father was pleased with my excellent
work today and decided to give me the rest of the day off.” Neva rolled her eyes slightly;
that boy was constantly bragging about his smith work. He continued, “Since I have the
day off, and I know you don‟t have any plans…What do you say?”
         “I say you can make new plans,” she replied with a smirk.
         “Oh come on,” he said. “You know you‟d like to spend the day with me.”
         “I know I‟d rather spend the day with a rabid dog,” she sneered. They always



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Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


played their little game of words. Somehow, whether Neva willingly gave in or Thomas
had thought of better replies, he always won her over.
         He said laughing, “I can always go get one. Would that make you happy?” Neva
broke into laughter at his amusing suggestion. “Aha! I see you agree with me. Come;
let‟s go make trouble around Piliad!”
         Thomas grabbed her by the arm and dragged out of the shop. They spent the day
walking through the woods and talking as good friends do. Thomas did the majority of
the talking in reality, but Neva enjoyed listening to him since he was almost endlessly
entertaining to listen to. Thomas and Neva walked down the dusty road that led to
Jeremy‟s home together as the sun retired below the western hills.
         “Good night. I‟ll see you tomorrow,” he said winking. Thomas placed his hand at
her back and then slid it down a measurable distance. Neva threw a hasty upward slap to
his jaw.
         “Ow, damn. That always smarts. Hmm, I do feel it may have been worth it.”
         “Oh! Be off, Thomas, or I‟ll make it smart twice as much!” Neva yelled over her
shoulder as she stepped inside her house. Thomas chuckled to himself as he made his
way down the dirt road. Jeremy was seated at the table with a drink. He took a quick swig
and looked up at Neva.
         Jeremy smiled as he greeted Neva, “Hello. Been out with the men have we?”
         She reddened and replied hastily, “Of course not. You know Thomas. When he
„insists‟ it‟s never a given choice.”
         “Oh, he‟s a fine lad. I don‟t mind you being with him,” he laughed.
         Neva scoffed in reply, “Thomas is a flirt, Jeremy. He‟s not much else.”
         “I wouldn‟t say that,” he said. “Thomas is a nice young man. I‟m not saying you
should spend time with him…hmm, wait, yes I am. I think you should. Haha, I‟m only
kidding.”
         Neva laughed as she went to her room. There just might be something about
Thomas, she thought to herself. She lay on bed and peered out the window. Night had
fallen, and the stars were winking in the far distance. She closed her eyes as she thought
about her future and how uncertain it was. Then, Neva was overtaken by sleep and sent
into distant dreams that would be forgotten upon waking.
         In the morning, she walked to her father‟s shop to find Thomas forging new
armor parts. He set a number of gauntlets upon the counter as he smiled at her.
         “Hello Neva. How are we today?” he asked.
         She replied as she scooped the armor into her arms, “You tell me.”
         “We‟re fine,” Thomas answered. Neva dropped a gauntlet on the floor as she
made her way to the shelves. Cursing, she bent down and picked it up. Thomas casually
leaned over the counter, glancing at Neva.
         “Oh yes,” Thomas continued, “we are most definitely fine.” Within seconds, a
gauntlet soared through the shop and unexpectedly knocked against his head.
         “Ow!” he exclaimed as it made contact.
         “Don‟t think didn‟t see that,” she mumbled.
         “Oh well.” He placed the armored glove upon the counter and returned to his
work. Jeremy bustled in the door with several papers under his arms. He set them down
upon his desk by the window and looked at Neva.
         He said with a slight frown, “You‟re here…”



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Swordslinger                                                                 A.A. Yeargin


        She perked a brow and replied, “Of course, it‟s what I do.”
        “Well,” he said.
        “Well what?”
        “Neva,” Jeremy said, “it‟s just that most girls don‟t do this kind of work.”
        She replied, “So?”
        “Some people—men—might think it‟s, well, weird. I want the best for you, Neva.
I want to make sure you…get married, you know, to a good man,” he said.
        Neva stared at Jeremy blankly for a few moments before finally uttering, “What
are you saying?”
        “I‟m saying,” he answered, “that you can‟t work in here anymore.”
        “What?” she yelled. “You won‟t let me work in here because you’re insecure
about my future! What if I won‟t get married then…”
        “Neva,” Jeremy said sighing, “you know how important marriage is. The only
people who go without husbands are prostitutes and slaves. I don‟t want to see you
become either.” She sighed and looked down at the floorboards as he spoke.
        “It‟s not fair,” she mumbled. Jeremy pointed to the door, and she slowly walked
out. Neva sat upon the steps and sighed.
        “You think I was too harsh?” Jeremy asked turning to Thomas.
        “Nah,” Thomas replied with a sideways jerk of his head, “she‟ll get over it.”
        “You‟re right. It‟s for the best after all,” Jeremy said nodding.
        On the front steps, Neva grumbled to herself angrily, “Why can‟t I work in there?
So what if I look weird…? Who died and christened him the saint of lady regulations?
Certainly not me…”
        Suddenly, a man walked up to the door and she looked at him. It was a potential
customer. A sore Neva wanted her vengeance, and she knew how to get it.
        “Oh, I wouldn‟t recommend going in there,” Neva said resentfully. “That no-good
Brigadine will rip you off sorely.”
        “Is that so?” the man said shocked. “Well, thanks miss, I‟m glad I didn‟t waste
my money here.”
        “Yeah, you should go to Carrigan‟s in the town center. He‟s an honest man,” she
said with a smile. The man nodded and walked off towards the town center. Neva leaned
back and grinned to herself wickedly.
        “Neva…” grumbled Jeremy inside his shop, having just watched the entire scene
from he window.
        Thomas began laughing, “So why is this for the best again?”
        Jeremy shook his head and replied, “I try pushing her in the normal direction and
she does this to me.”
        “Well, she‟s acted up before, has she not? Just do what you normally do,”
Thomas offered.
        Jeremy sighed and said, “I can‟t.”
        “Why not?”
        “Because, “he said, “when she was being a little rogue I‟d make her work here in
the shop.”
        “Well,” Thomas said laughing even harder, “that‟s not going to work is it?”
        “Thomas?” Jeremy said in slight agitation.
        “Yes sir?”



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Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


        “Shut up,” he said. Thomas hid his smile and turned to continue his work.
        Outside, Neva was still fuming about her banishment from the armory. It was like
a second home to her, and she really enjoyed the work, even if Thomas was always there
too. Her grey eyes veered towards the town center. There was a soldier, who appeared to
be from Helix, yelling out to the crowd.
        “Sign up for the Liam Elites! Get training and become a solider or guard!” Neva
impulsively designed a crazy plan to get herself from Piliad. With a bold nerve, she stood
and strode across the town center.
        She approached the man and said, “Oh sir. I‟d like to sign up…” He looked at her
strangely. Then she finished, “…for my brother. His name is Chris. He would come out
himself, but he‟s working so hard in our father‟s shop at the moment.”
        “Alright miss. Take these papers to him and tell him to be here a week from now.
They will be taking the men to train in Helix then,” the man said.
        “Yes sir,” she replied as she walked off with the papers. Neva grinned widely as
she hid them under her bed. She walked into her father‟s shop to see Thomas.
        “Neva,” Jeremy said, “do you remember that talk we had?”
        “Yes sir,” she replied, “but I‟m just looking for Thomas.”
        Jeremy looked around and replied, “Oh, he wandered off, probably looking for
you.” Neva nodded as Jeremy turned around to continue working. Neva smiled to herself
as she reached for a pauldron. She silently placed it on the shelf.
        As she reached for another, Jeremy yelled, “Neva! Out!” She dropped it and
dashed out of the shop. In her haste, she accidentally ran into a young man. The man
dropped a few things from his bag. He placed his hands upon her shoulders.
        “Well, excuse you, ma‟am,” he said.
        “Yes, pardon me. I didn‟t mean to run into you sir,” she said pulling away from
him. His grasp on her shoulders tightened painfully.
        “Now, won‟t you pick all of this up?” he said through gritted teeth.
        Neva answered, “Not if you‟re going to be rough about it.”
        The young man posed as if to hit her and yelled, “You wench!” Then, he was
pulled away from her. Neva turned to find Thomas gripping the young man‟s arm.
        “Why are you pestering my little sister?” he asked.
        “Your sister?” the young man said. He backed away from Neva and receded into
the town sullenly. Thomas smiled at Neva.
        She smiled back appreciatively and replied, “Thanks Thomas, I guess you do
come in handy sometimes.”
        “Of course, but now…you owe me one,” he said slyly. Neva glared at him as he
took off down the road.
        “Thomas!” she yelled. She tore down the road after him, and both stopped when
they reached a creek, where Neva finally caught him in a choke hold.
        Out of breath and tired, Thomas gasped, “Alright, alright.” He sat down on a
large rock and grinned at Neva. She rolled her eyes as she leaned against a tree.
        “Anyway, I wanted to tell you…” he said looking up at her.
        “What?”
        He stated, “I‟m joining the Liam Elites.” Neva froze as he said those words. There
would be no way to trick anyone if he was there. She‟d need a clever disguise, and she‟d
need to be smart. Neva wanted the chance to show Jeremy what a woman could do. She



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Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


didn‟t want to be married and spend the rest of her life raising children.
         She finally replied, “That‟s…that‟s great. I‟m glad.”
         “Yeah,” said he, “I was wondering if…you would go with me to Helix. I know
you want to get away from Piliad and all.” Neva fell silent once more. “I don‟t leave for a
week, so you have time to, you know, decide.”
         “Okay,” she said distantly as she nodded. He smiled at her, and she gave him a
halfhearted smile in return.
         In the following days, Neva made trips to the clothier‟s shop. She had the woman
tailor a large, blue robe that would easily cover her figure. She wrote out a note telling
Jeremy that she was going to Helix with Thomas, which she planned on leaving for him
the morning she left. It’s not a lie, she thought resolutely. It’s merely meant to be
misunderstood. Neva was excited about seeing the capital of Liam and getting to train as
a soldier. She only hoped that she would not be caught.
         Jeremy invited Thomas over for dinner the night before he was to leave. Neva sat
at the table next to him, and across them sat Jeremy. During the course of the dinner,
however, Thomas‟ hand would casually linger on Neva‟s knee several times. Each time
she would jab him forcefully with her fork. After dinner, Neva was lying on her bed
reading when Thomas entered the room.
         “Hey Neva,” he said. Thomas walked in and sat down at the edge of her bed.
         She set her book down and greeted him in return, “Hello Thomas.” As she looked
into Thomas‟ eyes, she saw the serious look holding their usually lighthearted shine at
bay. She cleared her throat as one of her hands gripped her sheet.
         “Have you made the decision whether you want to go or not?” he asked.
         “I‟m going to stay here,” Neva answered, “I‟m sure Jeremy will need help in his
shop whether I‟m allowed to or not, since you won‟t be there and all.”
         “Oh, I understand. That‟s a good idea. Will you send me letters at least?” Thomas
asked. His soft brown eyes were focused upon her. She smiled and nodded in reply. He
gave her a good strong hug before he rose from the bed. This time, however, he didn‟t
grab her. It was simply a hug. It was an awkward thing for Neva. She swallowed
nervously as he released her.
         “Goodbye Neva,” he said quietly.
         She replied with a nod, “Goodbye and good luck.” Thomas pulled her blanket
over her and blew the candle out. Neva, feeling a certain sadness, watched his silhouette
disappear down the hall. She shook her head lightly and sighed. I’m being silly, she
thought. I’m going to be in training with him, or Chris will at least.
         Neva arose early the next morning and put her robe on. Quickly, she grasped her
ponytail and sliced it off with a small knife. Then, she smeared a bit of dirt over her chin
and jaw. Viewing her reflection, she laughed as she thought, That’s as close to a man as
I’ll ever get. Satisfied with her quick handiwork, she pulled the hood up to hide her face,
though it was unrecognizable and boyish now. On her way out of the home, she left the
note upon the table. Neva arrived at the meeting place on time; there were only four other
men going, one being Thomas. The others she did not know.
         “I see we‟ll all be training together. My name is Thomas Lowet. What, may I ask,
are yours?” Thomas greeted.
         One with short brown hair said, “I‟m Seth Morrison. How are you?”
         “Just fine,” Thomas replied.



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Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


        A young man with sandy colored hair replied, “I‟m Jacques Belton and this is my
brother Eric.” His brother, standing next to him, nodded. Both looked nearly identical.
        Thomas nodded towards Neva, “What‟s your name, pal?”
        “Chris,” she replied sounding as manly as she could muster. She was thankful that
she had a much deeper voice than many young women her age did, though she had been
secretly ashamed before.
        “Nice to meet you,” Seth stated cheerfully. Neva gave a silent nod. Seth wore a
long, dark brown robe. Thomas wore his usual clothes, a white silk shirt and brown pants.
The Belton brothers wore similar blue shirts with black pants. Moments later, A large
wagon pulled by a pair of oxen arrived. The wagon jerked to a stop, sighing and
groaning.
        “Alright you bunch, let‟s get in. We‟ve a good three days‟ travel until we reach
Helix,” the driver yelled.
        All five piled into the roomy wagon and set off. If my plan works, I may never see
Piliad again, she thought. This saddened her some, but she wanted to see the rest of the
world. They traveled in silence for a short time before Thomas started speaking with
Seth. The Belton boys quietly conversed with themselves, and Neva was stuck listening
to Seth and Thomas‟ chatter.
        “Oh yes. I‟ve been working in Jeremy Brigadine‟s smith shop. He says I do fine
work. In fact I‟ve sold quite a few greaves, a cuirass, and numerous gauntlets.” Thomas
bragged.
        Seth looked at him in disbelief, “I‟d say you‟re full of it. I, on the other hand,
have studied magicks with my uncle.”
        “So you can hex me if you wish?” Thomas asked.
        “No, no! I only know light healing things,” Seth laughed.
        “What kind of work do you do, Chris?” Thomas inquired.
        Neva replied, “Anything I can find.”
        “Well, what do you like doing?” Seth asked.
        “A few things,” Neva answered. Thomas looked at Neva awkwardly.
        “You‟re a peculiar fellow, aren‟t you?” Thomas said.
        She replied in a deep, intimidating voice, “You want to repeat that?”
        Thomas coughed and answered, “No. I‟d rather not upset you.”
        “You gonna let this scrawny boy scare you?” Seth said, laughing loudly.
        Neva said sharply, “What I lack in bulk I make up for in intelligence, Seth.”
        Seth replied quietly, “Yes, of course. I just…”
        “You better watch your tongue and your back. You might find my blade in
either,” Neva said threateningly. Thomas and Seth exchanged nervous glances. Neva
laughed in a deep voice.
        “Hah. Yes, you gave us quite a scare with that joke,” Thomas said.
        Neva replied darkly, “I wasn‟t joking. I just thought it was very funny.” Seth and
Thomas scooted to the side slightly. Neva liked the fear she invoked, and it seemed to
intoxicate her with a pleasing sense of power.
        The ride to Helix was an interesting one. According to Neva‟s lies, Chris was
sixteen and spent his life with a smith since his real parents died fighting dark mages.
Neva‟s actions made Chris seem like a very angry and possibly mentally unstable young
man with dreams of killing those that defy the empire. The others feared Chris because of



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Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


his mysteriousness—and the dark, random death threats as well. She never actually meant
the threats, no matter how serious they sounded. Overall, Neva had quite a lot of fun
making Chris the character he was. She only hoped they would not find out that she was
really Chris.
         They arrived to the grand city of Helix on the third day. As they passed through
the large, heavy gates, they saw a myriad of people swarming about the city. Shops and
markets littered the wide streets, as did the people. There was just no empty space
anywhere. It was filled with either person or stone. They traveled through the wide city
streets to a large fortress. Numerous guards strode the large battlements in shining armor.
Each had a crossbow over their shoulders and a sword at their sides. The driver led the
oxen to a small side gate in the large wall surrounding the fort.
         “Alright. This here is Fort Derelict. As you can see, it‟s far from such. You
fellows head on in there and they‟ll get you properly suited and get your training started.
Fight well good lads.” The driver shouted as he left all five standing outside the fortress.
         Thomas grinned, “Well, this will be exciting, eh?”
         “Very…” Neva said.
         “Yes, I agree. I‟m looking forward to training with you all,” Seth said cheerily.
         A prim looking man approached the five and yelled, “Alright, newcomers. You‟ll
be split into small groups whom you‟ll be spending quite a bit of time with. I‟m assigning
Sir Smiley and you two robed lads. I‟ll split you two brothers up into other groups. Now,
if you‟ll follow me I‟ll take you to your residences where your uniforms are at.” Seth
laughed at Thomas as he scowled for being mocked. Neva chuckled deeply.
         “Quiet, recruits!” he yelled. “Now, as you may already know this is Fort Derelict.
It was given this name in 1293 to ward off enemies because no one would conquer
something that sounds dilapidated and broken. There‟s more history, but I don‟t care and
I doubt you do. You‟ll learn that with Father Crowe. I‟m only here to make sure you stay
in the lines and to teach you combat. My name is Captain Henry Balks. You will address
me as Captain Balks or sir only.”
         Captain Balks led Neva, Thomas, and Seth across a large field and into the stone
buildings surrounding it. He led them to a room with a wolf carved into a small sign on
the door. Balks opened the door to reveal a small, dark room with four beds. There were
sets of uniforms on three of them and chests at the ends of the beds.
         “Now, today I all ask is that you change into your uniforms and learn the fort. I
will not hold your hand. Holding hands with gauntlets is very uncomfortable.” He paused
to laugh at his own joke. “Anyway, tomorrow we will begin training. Your group is the
Wolves. Hmm, any questions?” There was a silence. “Alright. I‟ll come around every
now and then to make sure you‟re not making trouble of yourselves.” Then, he left the
room.
         Neva sat on the bed in the corner of the room. Then, she saw Thomas take off his
shirt to put on his uniform. She immediately blushed and looked away. This is going to be
very awkward, she thought to herself.
         “If we‟re all going to be staying together you guys must learn one thing,” she said.
         “Yes, Chris?” Seth said.
         Neva stated firmly, “I like my privacy. Anyone watching while I change or sleep
will find they don‟t wake in the morning. Do you hear me?”
         Thomas replied in a tight voice, “Yes!” He immediately turned around, and Seth



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Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


did likewise. Neva quickly changed into the uniform, which was a blue shirt with black
pants. The blue shirt had symbols and emblems sewn into the shoulder, and Neva was
thankful it was rather big on her.
         “Well, let‟s travel the fort, shall we?” Seth said.
         “Oh yes! Coming Chris?” Thomas asked.
         Neva replied, “Yes.” As she turned around Thomas looked her straight in the
eyes. She no longer had her face hidden, and the only change was her hair.
         “You look…familiar,” he said.
         “Oh?” She said avoiding raising her brow. Neva knew that if she was going to get
away with anything she had to act completely different from her usual self.
         “Hmm, I don‟t know who you look like, but you do look like someone I know,”
he said.
         Neva gave a solemn nod, and then they left the room. They walked up ramparts
and through fort buildings. They saw the armory, which was the largest and most
exclusive in all Liam, and several other vital places to Fort Derelict and the city of Helix
itself.
         As they walked atop the walls for the third time that day, Seth stopped and said,
“Well, I‟m quite tired. I‟m going to head back to our room.”
         “Hmm, I think I‟m going to walk for a bit more,” Thomas said.
         “I as well,” Neva replied. Then, Seth nodded and walked back to the room.
         Thomas turned to Neva and said, “I‟ve been thinking about it, and I know who
you remind me of.”
         “Hmm, do tell,” she replied.
         “Well,” he mumbled in a low voice, “if I told you…you might not like it.”
         “Try me,” Neva said.
         Thomas looked out at the city, “Well, if you won‟t slit my throat, you remind me
of a good girl friend of mine. Your eyes are so much alike.”
         “I look like a girl? Is that what you‟re trying to tell me, Lowet?” Neva said
threateningly.
         “No!” he shouted almost squeaking. “You don‟t look like a girl at all. I was
meaning that your eyes remind me of hers. She‟s got nice eyes…” Neva blushed some
but immediately disguised it as anger.
         “Don‟t get sentimental with me. I hate that,” she growled lowly.
         He replied, “My apologies. Hmm, I wonder what she‟s doing now. If I were to
take a guess she‟d be just finishing helping her father with the shop.” Neva coughed
loudly in attempt to cover her laugh. “You alright, Chris?”
         “Ahem, yes. I‟m fine. This city air is quite awful,” she answered.
         “Yes, it‟s dreadful compared to the clean air of little old Piliad,” Thomas said.
         Neva nodded in reply. She was beginning to feel awkward feelings. Thomas was
her friend, no matter how much of a flirt he usually was. She felt bad about lying to him,
but she so sorely wanted to train. She decided she would tell him as soon as they were
both finished. Neva didn‟t know exactly what she would do after training though. She
knew she couldn‟t become a guard. Neva didn‟t want to pretend to be a male her whole
life, only long enough to last through the training that was two years. She figured she
could hold out as long as her hair was always cut very short.
         They returned to their room as darkness fell. Seth was asleep in his bed. Thomas



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Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


and Neva went to sleep as well for the day had been long. The next morning Captain
Balks pounded on the door and barked for them to wake up. He said that after morning
exercises they would have breakfast.
        The morning exercises included jogs around the large field, numerous stretches,
and sprinting methods of different kinds. This left their legs tired and their bodies hot.
Breakfast gave them a break and energy though. It was a nice meal of eggs with toast. In
the large eating room, Neva noticed several other groups. They each had their own color
and their own emblems. The young men all looked so strong and handsome; it almost
made her go red.
        After breakfast came the combat lessons. Balks took the Wolves group down to
the armory to each have them fitted for armor beforehand. Neva became anxious as she
saw an elderly man taking measurements. He measured the shoulders and chest. She
placed herself at the back of the line. Soon she was the last and only person in there.
        “Next one,” the old man said. Neva looked around and found that the man and she
were the only ones in the room.
        “That‟d be me,” she said in her deep voice. The old man smiled kindly and
motioned for her to approach him.
        He asked, “What is your name, son?”
        “I‟m Chris,” she answered.
        “Chris…whom?” he asked.
        “Just Chris, sir. I don‟t know my parents. I have no last name,” Neva said. She
always wished she knew her real surname.
        The man replied, “Oh, I‟m awfully sorry. I am Father Crowe, not to be confused
with raven.” He chuckled at himself shortly. “Now, let‟s take your measurements so you
can get some armor.”
        Neva took a deep breath and hoped for the best as he reached for his measuring
string. Father Crowe patted her stomach noticing its thinness.
        “My word. You‟re awfully thin, son,” he remarked.
        “Yes, I never eat much,” she said. This was true of her. As Father Crowe sat there
looking at Neva, he smiled brightly.
        “You say your name‟s Chris, huh?” He began laughing loudly.
        Neva said, “Yes, sir. My name‟s Chris.”
        “Is that short for Christine?” Father Crowe remarked.
        “It would be short for Christopher, sir. Not Christine,” she said. Neva knew she‟d
been caught.
        “Listen, child. Don‟t worry. I‟m a man of good word. I promise I won‟t share
your secret. I will keep it though on two conditions,” he said.
        Neva dropped her male voice and whispered, “Please sir. Anything at all. I really
just want a chance to train. I don‟t want to end up being married so young and raising
children. I beg of you.”
        He replied, “I want two things. I want you to show the world what you can do. I
know you have potential. I see it in your eyes.”
        “Yes sir. Of course. What is the other thing?” she asked.
        “Oh yes. For heaven‟s sake! Eat more, child!” he laughed heartily. Neva gave a
small laugh. “What is your real name? This I will not reveal either. I do like
confidentiality as much as you do I am sure.”



                                                                                         9
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


         “My name‟s Neva and I actually don‟t have a last name. I was found by a man,
Jeremy Brigadine, in a temple when I was a baby,” she answered.
         “Ah. You are a most interesting character. After studies tonight, I would like to
speak with you more. I have never had the chance to teach a female before or meet
anyone quite like yourself.” Neva smiled and nodded. “Alright. I‟ll make sure the armor
fits alright as well.” He winked as he motioned for her to leave. She smiled at the kind,
old man and left. Seth was leaning on the wall outside.
         “What took you so long, Chris?” he asked.
         Neva gave a menacing glare as she answered deeply, “I wanted to talk with the
Father for a little while. He‟s a nice man. What‟s your deal, Morrison?”
         Seth gave an evil grin, “My deal is you scratch my back I scratch yours.” Neva
raised a brow inquisitively. He looked around then waved for her to follow. “Come with
me.” She followed reluctantly. Seth led her to a corner of the large wall that surrounded
Fort Derelict. No guards were present and all was quiet.
         “Now,” he said, “I know your secret.”
         “I have no clue what you‟re talking about, Seth,” Neva replied.
         “Oh, be quiet,” he hissed. “I know your name is not Chris. It‟s Neva. I heard.”
         Neva whispered lowly, “You were eavesdropping?”
         “Aha. See, you are a female. I can‟t believe you got into the army. Also, yes. I
was eavesdropping. My apologies. I overheard him say how skinny you were and
well…it sounded so interesting. I won‟t tell anyone if you promise to help me in my
studies,” he said slyly.
         “Why would you ask me?” she asked.
         “I can tell you‟re smarter than the rest. I‟m, well, dumb as a sack of rocks. You‟re
a female; don‟t they learn faster anyway?” he said.
         Neva gave a small sigh and smiled, “Alright. Please, don‟t tell anyone at all
though. I‟m begging you, Seth. Oh, don‟t tell Thomas especially. I know him personally,
and he‟d go crazy if he knew I was here.”
         “Yeah, he wouldn‟t shut up about you earlier. I told him I‟d get Chris if he
wouldn‟t. Hmm, you know that‟s very funny. You have us quite scared of the Chris
character. I think I‟m more scared of the Neva character though,” he laughed. She socked
him in the arm playfully.
         “Ow! Cripes. Now I know what Thomas was saying when he said you hit like a
man.” Seth rubbed his arm.
         Neva cleared her throat and said in her deep voice, “Come on, Morrison. Suck it
up.” She gave him a wry smile as she climbed down the battlements.
         As she reached the bottom of the ladder, Seth looked at her and said, “I‟m really
sorry about your parents, by the way. I‟ve always known my parents and my last name. I
can‟t even imagine what it‟s like for you.”
         She gave a small nod and said, “It‟s alright. You get used to being no one after
awhile.” Neva‟s grey eyes averted to the ground as she walked towards the recruit
housing. She entered and lay on her bed until it was time to go to lessons with Father
Crowe.
         The studies with Father Crowe were history lessons of Liam. She had studied
history of all types of Liam in the small Piliad library owned by the temple. She
impressed all in her class and Father Crowe himself.



                                                                                           10
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         “Now that we have read the passage, who can tell me the year that South Liam
received its independence?” he asked.
         “I can, Father, sir!” Neva bellowed.
         “Anyone besides Chris? He was sleeping when we read, as well.” Father Crowe
remarked. While he looked at the other young men, Neva held up the numbers one, three,
seven, and nine subtly to Seth.
         “One, uh, thirteen seventy-nine, sir!” he answered.
         “That is correct, Seth,” the aged man replied. He took his small glasses off and
examined the clock whose gears clicked softly in the corner. “Well, I do think it is time to
dismiss you all now. Read over what we discussed please. That is all. Good night.” There
was a loud scuffling and bout of noise as the young men scrambled out of the room. Neva
remained in her seat. Father Crowe closed the door.
         “Well, you certainly have proven yourself in my area of instruction and mastery.
How do you know all these things?” he asked.
         Neva replied in her usual voice quietly, “I studied at the library in Piliad. I was
especially interested in history.”
         “Yes, I noticed you paid no attention in the discussion of the lesson,” he said.
         Neva apologized hastily, “I‟m very sorry, sir. I don‟t mean to disrespect you like
that. I‟ve just learned it, and I couldn‟t focus…”
         “No, don‟t apologize. It‟s my own problem if my pupil doesn‟t pay attention, for I
should make them listen. Now, I will try to arrange something for you, Neva. I‟d like to
see your mind put to work. For now, go ahead and join the others…Chris.” Winking, he
smiled at her. Father Crowe is as much of a character as I am, Neva thought. She walked
outside the room, and there stood Seth.
         She sighed, “Yes, Seth?”
         “You know what I want,” he stated with a grin. “I know where we can study.”
Neva nodded and followed him to an empty library within the fort.
         “This was used by monks long ago when the fort and temple were pretty much
one in the same,” he said. “No one comes in here now. It‟s pretty much useless. Now, we
studied about South Liam today, so teach me, lady scholar.” Seth smiled widely as Neva
rolled her eyes.
         Repeatedly she explained South Liam‟s economy, government, and historic ties
with Liam. Seth was a slow learner but with steady practice learned quite well. He was a
funny person too. He reminded Neva of Thomas very much but more contained with
women, for that Neva was greatly thankful. If he had been acting like Thomas did to her,
it would have undoubtedly been quite awkward. After Seth finally understood the lesson,
he leaned back in his chair and put his feet on the table.
         He asked, “So tell me about yourself, Neva. I mean you‟ve got to be either really
smart or insane to lead a life like you do.” He gave a laugh, and she retaliated by
throwing a book at him.
         “I‟ll take insane as a compliment, thank you very much. There‟s not much about
me. I‟m a girl with no last name or real parents who wants a life other than raising
children until she dies. I lived with an armor smith my whole life,” she replied shrugging.
         Seth nodded, “So that explains why you and Thomas fought over which type of
metal is more suitable for cuirasses. Hmm, a female knowing about armor and weaponry.
What strange person you are, Neva!” Seth laughed as he leaned further back in his chair.



                                                                                         11
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


She smirked evilly as she kicked one of the legs of his chair, sending him on the floor.
        “Ah!” he yelled. “You know, you‟re as threatening as Chris, if not more. I mean,
even though I know you‟re a woman you still scare me alive.” Neva replied with a dark
laugh. “Oh, quit. I know you‟re all bark and no bite though.”
        Neva raised a brow and replied, “You think so? Just wait until we do combat
training. You‟ll see Neva‟s wrath, boy.”
        “Hmm, I think I‟d like some of your wrath. I might have two helpings,” Seth
stated as he laughed. She rolled her eyes at him.
        “Speaking of helpings, we should get back; it‟s almost dinnertime, and I‟m
hungry.” Neva said. Then she changed her voice and continued, “When Chris is hungry,
he‟s not happy.” Seth smiled and raised his arms to get up. Neva pulled him off the
ground, and they walked to their room together.
        Thomas was there without his shirt on and said, “Oh, hello fellows. Where were
you two at?”
        Neva immediately blushed and yelled deeply, “Thomas, get your clothes on
man!”
        “Oh right. My apologies, Chris,” he replied and looked for his shirt.
        “We were studying. Chris finally got it through to me that South Liam is south of
Liam. Haha. No, he did teach me though.”
        Thomas said as he slipped the shirt over his head, “It wouldn‟t surprise me at all if
you thought it was north of Liam, Seth.”
        “Hey!” he yelled. Neva began laughing. She almost lost her voice as she did.
Thomas could always make her laugh, even on a bad day. They went to dinner as the
trumpets sounded through the area. It was a good dinner of various breads and meats with
soups of different kinds. She knew why soldiers were usually weighty. As Father Crowe
passed her, he patted her head.
        “Glad to see you‟re eating, child,” he said chuckling.
        Neva smiled back and answered, “Hah, yes sir.” Thomas looked at her curiously.
        “What did he mean by that?” he asked.
        “Nothing,” she replied. “Nothing that concerns you.”
        “You know, Chris. I‟d say something, but we‟re right next to large cutting
knives,” Thomas said looking her in the eyes.
        She scowled at him slightly, “We can take this outside, Lowboy.”
        “No, it‟s fine. I‟d rather live,” he mumbled.
        They slept well that night. The day had been very tiring on them. The next
morning Captain Balks pounded on the door as usual. They did the usual morning
routines. Then, he led them to the armory where Father Crowe handed out the armor. He
gave Neva‟s last and smiled at her. She looked at it and saw it was specially fixed. The
lower plate was made a little thicker to make the upper plate less noticeable.
        “Thank you, sir,” she whispered. He gave a solemn nod. She put on the cuirass,
and then the helmet. There were boots, greaves, and light leather gloves.
        He said silently, “Oh, I‟ll send for some leather cap for you. I hate seeing a child
as beautiful as you without nice, long hair.” Neva gave a laugh and headed out to the
field. There the young men were lined up according to group. She fell in behind Thomas.
Seth turned and gave her a small wink. The corners of Neva‟s lips pulled into a small
grin. Captain Balks strode up and down the ranks along with several other captains.



                                                                                          12
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         “Alright, recruits. We will be taking you to the combat training arenas. There your
captain will teach you basic sword techniques. Later on, you will learn how to use maces,
spears, javelins, crossbows, and normal bows. You need to be prepared. Now, let‟s go,”
Captain Balks yelled. He motioned for his group to come with him. He led them to a
small circular hut building. There was only a roofed fenced area. An arrangement of
weapons was leaning against the fence along with three shields.
         “These are your shields. I expect you to use them well. Today, you won‟t be using
any blades. You‟ll slice each other‟s heads off. Recruits always use the apprentice blunt
weapon.” He held up two large wooden poles that hardly resembled any form of weapon.
         Thomas laughed and said, “Sir, that‟s a stick.”
         Balks gave a smirk, “That‟s the point, son. Now, why don‟t you get in there first,
smart-aleck. You there, girlish looking one, get in there too.”
         “Sir, I feel as though I have been misaddressed,” Neva replied.
         Balks gave a scowl, “How about civilian?” The point came clear to Neva. If she
didn‟t shut up, he‟d kick her out.
         “No sir. You can call me Twinkle-toes if you want. I don‟t care. Just don‟t call me
girly. It‟s offending to my heritage,” Neva said boldly. Isn’t that how males usually react
to such insults, she wondered. She still didn‟t know exactly how to act in all situations.
         He laughed, “Son, I know you can‟t be serious. You don‟t have parents…” Neva
looked away. She hated when people said that. Neva couldn‟t stand not having parents
some days. Quickly, she blinked away a small tear at the corner of her eye and entered
the small arena.
         Thomas smirked as Balks shut the gate. Neva wasn‟t in any mood to play his little
mind games. She coldly scowled at him. The Captain handed them the sticks and
instructed them on how to hold them and ways of certain positions.
         “Oh, yes. See there, Sir Scowls has the right position. No, you brainless oaf!
That‟s all wrong!” Balks shouted at Thomas. “Now, just to see if you can do anything, go
on.”
         Thomas gave him a shocked glance, “What sir?”
         “You heard me. Go for it. Try to neutralize each other‟s threats. No more than that
though since you won‟t be using your shields this round,” he replied.
         Neva smirked coldly at Thomas as he backed up slowly. He took a poorly aimed
blow to her legs. She leapt into the air as his stick went under her. With one upward
strike, she hit his knuckle sending his weapon flying into the air. Neva caught the stick
with her free arm. Then, she threw both to the ground and turned to Balks. His dark eyes
searched hers critically. He was silent for a moment.
         “Well, that went…different than I expected. Hmm, either Goofball is very bad
with weapons or you may have some talent, Silent One. What‟d you say your name
was?” he said to Neva.
         “My name is Chris, sir,” she replied.
         Balks said, “Well, Chris, let‟s see what you can make of the other man we‟ve
got.” Seth looked up at Captain Balks with wide eyes. He shook his head profusely.
         “Yes, son. Get in there.” The Captain gave him a kick to the rear end and shut the
gate.
         Neva readied her weapon and crouched low. Seth stepped forward and took a
slash for her face. She blocked his blow with her stick. Seth swung his weapon with all



                                                                                         13
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


the strength he had aiming for her shoulder. Neva used both hands and parried his attack.
The force of her strike against his was so strong Neva‟s stick broke in half, sending a
shower of splinters down upon both of them. Neva used the handle of her broken weapon
to disarm Seth. With no weapon, he backed up against the fence in fear. She immediately
dropped her weapon and turned to Balks once more.
        “Well, I applaud you Chris. I‟m guessing you‟ve had experience with weapons
before. Those weren‟t the moves of a beginner,” he said trying not to show that he was
impressed in the slightest.
        Neva nodded slightly, “Some.”
        “Today is your lucky day, Chris. You can leave early. No use in teaching you how
to hold a stick. Go on,” he mumbled. Neva gave a grin to Seth as she hopped over the
fence and ran off. Running with armor was a difficult thing. She placed her armor neatly
into the chest at the end of her bed. Then she lay on the bed and fell asleep. The
slamming of the room door woke her.
        “Chris!” Thomas yelled. “Where on earth did you learn those moves?”
        “Yes, do tell…Chris,” Seth said grinning.
        Neva shook her head groggily, “I don‟t know.”
        “Did you train before here?” Thomas inquired.
        “I lived with a smith for most of my life. I know how to use a blade,” she said as
her senses were regained.
        Seth nodded, “Well, you scared the living daylights out of me when you broke the
stick there.”
        “Oh,” she said through a yawn. A trumpet sounded signaling it was time for
evening studies. She grabbed her history book and followed Seth and Thomas to Father
Crowe‟s quarters in the fort. They sat down at the assigned chairs as the man entered.
        “As you recall, we studied our neighboring country to the south, South Liam.
Now, we will study our other neighbor, Nolark. Now…” Everything he said seemed to
run together into senseless words. Neva almost fell asleep. Before she knew it, the young
men were jumping out of their seats and heading out the door.
        “Now for your lesson, Neva,” Father Crowe said. “I‟ve been studying the ancient
history of the Harthyung Forest. I‟m sure you know where it is and some of its legends,
correct?”
        Neva nodded, “It‟s located just northeast of the Qudante Valley and the other two
valleys. The legends…oh, yes. Supposedly, Lycans thrived in the Harthyung for
generations and generations. In the very beginning of the Cervantes monarchy however
they were all killed off, or so the books say.”
        “You are very correct,” he said. “Now, what are your personal thoughts on the
matter?”
        “I feel that there are still Lycans in there. They are most likely hidden in the
depths within the forest to where we never venture. The early Cervantes monarchs were
quite bent on ridding the land of Lycans. There was a large-scale attack that went on in
Harthyung. The issue was soon forgotten as South Liam began the uprising for
independence. Nothing else was done about the Lycans or the Harthyung Forest. I
wonder though, are they all that bad?”
        Father Crowe smiled and said, “It takes a smart person to stop and say that. The
unintelligent rely only on what their ancestors say, entailments. Thinking different can be



                                                                                        14
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


good and usually is. I have not met a Lycan, but I do not think they are as bad. In fact, an
old writer once said that they were far more civilized than we are. With the leaders we
have now, I can only agree. Lord James Cervantes may be the leader of all Liam, but he‟s
not the smartest of all Liam. His son is a rather bright one though. He‟s, oh, about your
age I do believe. I educate him privately. I should introduce you two sometime…” He
rambled on for quite some time. Neva began feeling drowsy and almost dozed off as the
trumpets sounded.
        “Oh, I‟d like you to read this book, and then when you finish tell me your
thoughts on the situation of the Harthyung. Goodbye Neva,” he said as he handed her a
small, brown book. She nodded and headed off to the large dining hall.
        “What did Crowe talk to you about for so long, Chris?” Thomas asked.
        Neva heaved an exasperated male sigh, “How many times do I have to tell you to
stay out of my business, Lowboy?”
        Thomas mumbled, “Yes, my apologies.” Neva didn‟t wish to be entirely rude. She
was merely very tired and wanted to be left alone.
        The rest of the week followed likewise. There were morning exercises. Then,
there were combat lessons, which Neva was allowed to leave early for the entire week.
The lessons with Father Crowe continued as well as the after class discussions. They
shared theories on disappearances of entire cities and other such phenomenon.
        Saturday morning Balks pounded on the door and yelled, “Recruits, today is
Saturday. You are all free to venture into the city, and tomorrow as well. We don‟t care
where you go or what you do as long as it is legal. Just be here Monday morning ready to
train.” Neva smiled to herself and rolled over in her bed. As she was beginning to fall
back asleep, Seth jumped on her bed.
        “Seth!” she screamed.
        He laughed and crawled off the bed saying, “Come on, Chris. I was only having
fun. Let‟s go see the city.”
        Neva growled lowly, “The city ain‟t going anywhere, boy. I‟m sleeping, and
when I‟m done I‟ll see it.”
        Thomas looked at Neva curiously and said, “You know that…”
        “Be quiet, Thomas!” Neva yelled as she threw a leather glove at him.
        “Ow! Now, was that necessary?” he yelled. “You‟re just like waking up Neva in
the morning. I remember one time…”
        Seth interrupted, “No one cares, Thomas.” Neva cleared her throat loudly. Then,
Thomas and Seth left the room. She went back to sleep happily. She was awoken by the
door slamming open.
        “You‟re still in bed?” Seth shouted.
        “No, genius, I‟m in a boat,” she replied sarcastically.
        He said, “Well, no need to get touchy.”
        “Where‟s Lowboy?” she asked.
        “Oh. The arseface got drunk in the tavern so I left him there,” Seth stated. Neva
laughed loudly.
        “Well, there‟s friendship for you,” she said laughing in her normal tone. She got
out of bed and walked over to Seth, sitting at the edge of his bed.
        “Whacha‟ got there?”
        “I got a letter from home,” he said smiling happily.



                                                                                         15
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


        Neva said, “Oh, that‟s quite nice.”
        “Yeah, they gave out the mail. Thomas was pretty down since he only got one
from his parents.”
        “At least he‟s got parents…” Neva mumbled.
        “Well, he was expecting a letter from you,” Seth replied.
        She inquired, “Oh. That‟s why he went down to the tavern?” He gave a nod as he
read his letter.
        “Well, give me paper and something to write with quick.”
        “Hmm, alright,” he said. Seth reached into the chest at the foot of his bed and
pulled out a small stylus and some ink. Then, he handed her a piece of paper. Neva
immediately wrote out a short letter to Thomas, and then laid it on his bed.
        “Thank you so much, Seth,” she said as she gave him a bear hug.
        He let out a gasp, “Ack! Sure thing! You know you have a strong grip for a
woman. I can‟t breathe!” Neva laughed as she let go.
        “Phew,” he gasped. “That was very painful. Ow…can I have another?” She
laughed at him even more.
        “You don‟t want me going soft now, do you?” she replied.
        “Well, I wouldn‟t mind if you went soft on just me.” Seth gave her a small wink.
She hit him over the head with the small feather pillow on the bed. Seth laughed loudly in
response. Then the door opened up revealing Thomas. He stumbled in and lay on his bed.
        “Hey, they came by and delivered a letter. Turns out, they had dropped it or
something. I think it‟s from that girl you always talk about,” Neva said in her deep voice.
Thomas drunkenly looked at the note he was lying on and smiled widely. He opened it up
and read it aloud.
        “Dear Thomas,” he read, “I hope you‟re doing well in your training. I‟m guessing
you are considering how much you bragged that you would. I‟ll be expecting to hear that
the new general is General Lowet. Everything here in Piliad is just fine. I‟ve had to put in
extra work in the shop since you left. It‟s not as if you helped a lot in the first place (I‟m
only kidding). Overall, things are pretty bland without you bothering me all day. I do
miss the laughs you brought. (NOTE: I never said I missed YOU. Joking!) I should let
you get back to becoming the next warrior. The one and only…Neva…” He heaved a
small sigh.
        “You okay, pal?” Seth asked.
        Thomas replied, “I‟m perfectly fine. I guess I‟m missing home a bit. That‟s all.”
        “Neva worked in a shop? What does that mean?” Seth asked. Neva opened her
mouth to answer but remembered she was Chris and not Neva.
        “Well, her adopted father was a smith…and…” Thomas looked at Neva. “You
know, it‟s so similar. You said your adopted father was a smith, didn‟t you Chris?”
        “Yes,” Neva replied. She hoped more than anything he, of all people, wouldn‟t
find out her secret. “Just stay in your own business, Lowboy.”
        “Sorry. You‟re really touchy sometimes. Hmm,” Thomas replied. Neva laid her
head in her pillow to hide her face. She felt as if she would cry. She really didn‟t like
anyone bringing up the idea of parents.
        Thomas inquired, “Chris…?”
        “Shut up. I‟m tired,” she mumbled.
        “You slept all day. How can you be tired?” Thomas said. Neva didn‟t reply. She



                                                                                            16
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


merely kept her head buried in her pillow.
         The next day, she steered clear of Thomas, fearing for her identity. Neva spent the
majority of the day in the old library reading the book Father Crowe had given her. It was
an old text relating the tales of a young warrior who traveled through the forests of the
Harthyung. He took along a journal and wrote about things he saw, chiefly Lycan
behavior.
         The warrior found out that there were two distinct groups of Lycans. One, the
more savage and beastly of the two, were called the Deltas and had distinct D-shaped
markings on their hides. The second division were the Alphas, who were more civilized
and actually lived in harmonious, human-like communities. The Alphas had their own
deep religion filled with rich history, which they honored. Their leader was a spiritual
being known as Rolath, and whoever should so possess that spirit would be the leader of
all the Alphas, now in numbers than anyone had ever let on.
         Neva had never known about the two types, nor had she heard of them ever living
as humans did. Her view on Lycans had been slightly altered by the young warrior‟s
words. Neva wondered about the Alphas‟ current status. She wished they could be a part
of the human society, for she knew they couldn‟t be all that bad. However, she kept her
thoughts to herself as she returned to the dorm, quiet and unresponsive.
         In the following weeks, tensions grew unpleasantly between Thomas and Neva.
Thomas was becoming increasingly mean and aggressive. Constantly, they were fighting
and bickering. Sometimes not even Seth could help them. In one night, many problems
ended, but numerous more problems began for Neva.
         It was a Saturday night and each was readying to go to sleep. Neva was in a
horribly bad mood. Things had not been well for her, and everyone expected too much of
her. She was stressed and not about to take anything from anyone.
         “Hey. Chris…?” Thomas said.
         “What?” Neva said sharply.
         “You think maybe your parents left you for a reason?” he laughed raucously. The
stress had taken its toll on Neva. Immediately a single, glistening tear tore down her face.
In the background, she heard Seth let out a small gasp.
         “Aw, what‟s wrong?” he taunted. “Need Mommy to hold you? Well, pal, you
don‟t have one!”
         “Thomas Robert Lowet, I hope you‟re more than satisfied with your disgusting
self,” Neva yelled deeply.
         “How do you know—” he began. He was cut off by Neva‟s fierce and sudden
blow to his stomach. “Ah! You did not just hit me!” he shouted. “That‟s it. I‟ve had
enough of you and your parentless, whining ass.”
         “Call me parentless, orphan or lost child one more time and you‟ll see what
happens,” she threatened.
         “I doubt you would actually do anything to me. You‟re all bark and no bite…you
filthy, no-good, parentless, orphaned, lost child!” Thomas said scowling.
         Neva completely lost it. All the pain from her past had now streamed from her in
the form of physical violence. She threw a left hook to his temple and followed by an
uppercut with her left hand to his chin. Thomas was thrown back. He charged forward
and Neva took a punch to her chest. She groaned and doubled over in pain.
         “Oh my…” Thomas said stunned. Before he had a chance to do anything, Neva



                                                                                          17
Swordslinger                                                                       A.A. Yeargin


sent a kick that hit him directly in the abdomen. He fell backwards onto the stone floor.
Neva then ran out the door and into the night.
         “Wait!” Thomas shouted in vain. She kept running towards the fort gates, making
her way to the Helix Lake. She sat upon an old log and placed her head in her hands.
After some time had passed, she scooted to the bank of the lake. She saw her reflection in
the moonlit lake water. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she stared at it wondering who
she was and why things had to be the way that they were. She dipped her hands in the
water and splashed her face lightly.
         Behind her, she heard footsteps approaching. She turned and saw a male figure in
the darkness.
         “Hello?” the voice said. Neva knew this was Thomas. She didn‟t reply. He set an
arm on her shoulder. “Please. Tell me the truth. I know you‟re not Chris, and not even a
guy. All I want to know is who you are. I won‟t tell the Captain. I promise.”
         “Does it matter to you?” she replied keeping her voice at a lower tone. “I‟m a
filthy orphan, and in life, that is where I remain.”
         “I‟m sorry I said those things. I should not be so mean about people without
parents,” he said.
         She said, “Have you been saying those things, even behind Neva‟s back?”
         “No. I‟d never speak ill of her,” he replied.
         “Of course you wouldn‟t. You‟re Thomas. You‟re only the biggest jerk in Liam,”
Neva said returning to her usual tone. “I am Neva. I joined the army, okay? Now leave
me alone. I don‟t want to fight you twice in one night.” Thomas remained silent for some
time. He couldn‟t find any words to describe what he felt.
         “Neva…I had no idea. I should have known. I even wondered…I‟m so terribly
sorry,” he whispered gently pulling her hair back. She slapped his hand.
         “I think I‟m even sorrier. I‟m sorry I ever came into this fort. I‟m sorry I thought I
could ever amount to anything but a nameless nobody. The thing I‟m the most sorrowful
towards is ever thinking you were someone special,” Neva said coldly. She walked down
the lake‟s edge a ways. Thomas ran after her. Without a word, he held her in his arms.
Neva didn‟t pull away. She laid her head on his arm and sighed heavily.
         “You‟re not a nameless nobody. Your name is Neva, and you‟re a very unique
girl,” Thomas whispered in her ear as he stroked her short hair. She looked up into his
eyes. He looked back in her tear-filled ones.
         “I feel so awful for hitting you and making you cry like this,” he said. Ever so
gently, he kissed her cheek. She pulled away and headed back towards the fort leaving
Thomas standing alone by the edge of the moonlit lake. Neva returned to the room. Seth
was sitting on his bed writing something as she opened the wooden door.
         He looked up and said, “Neva, are you alright?”
         “Just dandy,” she sighed. She lay in her bed and said not another word for the
night.
         She didn‟t know when Thomas had gotten back that night, but she found his bed
messy as if it had been slept in. A note was tucked under her pillow. She picked it up and
read it. Neva, I’ll make it all up somehow. Whatever you do, please don’t leave the fort. I
will not tell a soul who you are. I will help protect your identity. Your friend, Thomas.
         Neva heaved a small sigh and rolled back over in her bed. She got up after quite
some time and took a small walk around the fort. She sat atop the large wall for some



                                                                                             18
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


time thinking to herself. Maybe it was a mistake coming here. She was madder at herself
than anyone. As night began to fall, she returned to the room. Neva returned to her bed.
Seth and Thomas returned from Helix.
         “Neva, are you alright?” Thomas said as he kneeled by her bedside.
         She mumbled as she turned in her bed, “I‟m fine.” He hugged her gently.
         “Do you hate me?” he asked.
         “No. I hate myself more,” she replied.
         He whispered as he left her side, “I wish you wouldn‟t.” She sighed lightly and
fell asleep thinking about what he said.
         The following week she had lost all spirit in anything. She only did her morning
exercises at half speed and strength. In combat training, she merely played the defense.
The only thing she did do well in was her studies. Learning and reading were the only
things she seemed to be able to focus on. After the class was over, Father Crowe seated
himself in a nearby desk.
         “Neva, Captain Balks noticed you seemed to be withdrawn during your combat
lessons. He says you usually have the others disarmed in record speeds, but recently
you‟ve just parried their blows. I noticed this morning while walking by that you were
hardly jogging during the sprinting exercises. You don‟t have to tell me anything at all. I
am just wondering why this is.”
         She replied, “To me, it feels as if it‟s all to no avail. All my goals are
meaningless. I don‟t even know who I am.”
         Father Crowe then spoke the wisest words she had ever heard, “My dear child,
identity is not specified by a name or title. It is who you choose to be.”
         Neva nodded, “Yes, sir. Thank you very much.” She happily gave the frail, old
man a hug.
         “Of course, my child. Of all my pupils, I do feel you are one of my favorites.
Tomorrow I should introduce you to one of my other favorites,” he said.
         She inquired, “Who?”
         “Lord Dave Cervantes. I do feel you two would get along nicely,” Father Crowe
stated.
         She gave him a look of surprise and exclaimed, “That‟s the Lord‟s son!”
         “Yes. Is there an issue?” he asked.
         “Well, I look like a boy! I‟m in the army. What would he think?” Neva replied.
         He replied solemnly, “I believe he would think you‟re an interesting character.”
Neva smiled and nodded.
         “I will let you leave early tonight. I‟m sure Seth needs help with the second
section in our book.”
         “You know about that?” she asked.
         He replied with a grin, “He told me since I was surprised at how he knew so
much.” Neva nodded and then headed out the door. The words that he said to her rang in
her head. It is who I choose to be, she thought. Neva realized the importance in her
choices. They were almost halfway through training, and she decided she was going to be
the best of the ranks.
         The next day her spirits were lifted and she did the best she could in what she did.
The only time she slacked off was during class with Father Crowe. She slept as usual, yet
she still managed to be on the ball with anything that she was asked. Then came the time



                                                                                           19
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


for her private lesson, and she perked right up.
        “I see you‟ve been faring well today,” Father Crowe noted.
        She nodded, “I have been, sir. I figure I‟ll make my own destiny now.”
        “That‟s a good girl,” he said. “Now today I wanted to discuss with you the issues
of South Liam.” They both conversed about the problems the country faced with the
Orcish population and other issues the deeply impoverished country faced.
        Then came the sound of a man clearing his throat. Neva turned to see an
intelligent-looking young man standing at the door. His hair was dark brown and his eyes
were another shade of brown. His handsome face was embellished with small, round
glasses hanging lowly on the brim of his nose. His clothes were nobleman‟s clothes, worn
by all the royalty of Liam. The young man‟s body looked as if it were built for strength.
He was the Lord‟s son, and he looked nothing less than lordly.
        “You asked me here tonight, sir?” he said to Father Crowe.
        The old man replied, “Yes, my child. Come sit down.” The young man made his
way to a chair next to Neva. She nervously took off her leather cap and attempted to
make her short hair look better. He gave her a smile, which she returned.
        “Who is this, Father Crowe?” he asked.
        The Father replied, “This is Neva. Despite her appearance, this is the young
woman I have spoken to you about.”
        “Oh, so this is the clever one, eh?” the young man said. Neva blushed lightly as
Father Crowe nodded. He gently grasped her hand and kissed it charmingly. “I am Lord
Dave Cervantes. It‟s a pleasure to meet you Lady Neva.”
        Her face turned fully pink as she replied, “It‟s an honor to meet you, Lord Dave.”
        “Please call me Dave,” he said looking into her eyes. It grew silent. Then, Father
Crowe‟s quiet snoring could be heard. Dave and Neva both laughed. They talked about
different subjects. Both were sore from laughter and in high spirits as the trumpets
sounded for Neva to go to dinner.
        “Well, I suppose you must be off,” Dave said slightly frowning. Neva nodded in
reply. “I hope to see you again sometime. I‟m sure Father Crowe will tell me of your
accomplishments,” Dave added a wink as he finished, “which I know will be many.”
        Neva smiled and said as she walked out, “Why thank you. Of course I‟ll be
hearing about you as well.” They laughed, and Neva left the building.
        Through the tough months of training, she remained strong. Neva soon became
the leading recruit in excellence. Her combat skills became perfected, and her knowledge
of Liam‟s ancient history was unmatched. Her physical strength grew as well as her
endurance. She even accomplished the „Art of Drinking,‟ as Thomas called it. Thanks to
good friends, her identity was well hidden, and before she knew it, the night before the
recruit graduating ceremony had come.
        “We‟ve had such a time here. Haven‟t we?” Thomas said lying on his bed.
        Neva replied, “Indeed.”
        Thomas asked, “What do you think was the best part of it all?”
        “Oh, when Neva tricked Captain Balks that day by switching the signs on the
doors of the recruit housing. He was so confused!” Seth laughed.
        Neva said, “Well, I‟d say all of it. I mean I think it was all great fun.”
        “You think everything is „great fun,‟” Seth replied, his tone slightly mocking.
        “No I don‟t,” she said hotly. “Just ask Sir Black-And-Blue. He knows what I



                                                                                       20
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


don‟t think is great fun.”
        Thomas gave a laugh and said, “Yes, we have contradicting ideas of what is fun.”
He winked at Neva and smiled widely. She threw a book at him from her bed.
        “Ow! You never do miss, do you?”
        “Not when I have such a big-headed target,” she said. They heard small snoring.
Seth had fallen asleep as usual.
        Thomas looked at Neva and then quietly whispered as he got up from his bed,
“Hey Neva. I have something for you.”
        She glared at him, “I told you I don‟t want anything you offer, Thomas.”
        “Well this one‟s a gift, so you have to take it. Hah. It‟s not bad anyway,” he
replied. Thomas reached into his chest and pulled out something wrapped in paper. Neva
looked at it inquiringly as he handed it to her.
        “I guess it‟s sort of a gift for graduating maybe,” he shrugged. She opened paper
to find a beautiful robe made of a thick yet soft, blue material. The edges were
embroidered with gold thread, and the inside was made of fine silk and lined with large
pockets. Neva almost squealed with joy as she slipped it on. She tied the silk sash at her
waist. Her name, embroidered on the left side of her chest in gold thread, glittered in the
dim light.
        “My name is spelled wrong,” she said frowning.
        “Oh my…it is?” Thomas said panicked.
        She smiled and replied, “Not really, haha. It‟s perfect.”
        “Really?” he asked. She smiled and nodded. Neva gave him a tight hug.
        “Hmm, let me have a feel of this material,” Thomas said. “It looks so soft.” He
smiled slyly as he placed his hand on her hind end.
        “Thomas!” she yelled. Before Thomas could move, Neva threw an uppercut to his
jaw. He sprung back and groaned in pain.
        He mumbled, “Ow. Yeah, you hit a lot harder now. It was well worth it though.”
        “You never change Thomas,” she said grinning. “Thank you so much for the robe.
I have a plan for it tomorrow.”
        “Oh?” he perked a brow.
        “You‟ll see, my good friend. Goodnight,” she whispered as she slipped the robe
off and fell into a deep sleep. The Captain‟s usual pounding and shouting awoke her.
        “Alright! Today you all become men. Rise and shine, buttercups. Just before
noon, we‟ll begin your graduating ceremony. Chris, you have your speech prepared?” he
yelled.
        “Yes sir!” she yelled in her deep voice.
        “There‟s a lad,” he said as the sounds of his receding footsteps were heard.
        Seth looked at her, “You get to do a speech?”
        “Yeah, I‟m graduating as a higher class something or other. Basically, I‟m better
than you,” she said smirking.
        “What?” he yelled.
        Thomas said, “She‟s only kidding, brainless. Neva‟s graduating as a First Elite,
instead of our rank of Elite. She gets to say a speech in front of everyone.”
        “I have mine perfectly planned out,” she said. “I‟m glad my hair has grown out.”
        “You‟re not thinking of…” Thomas said.
        Neva grinned, “Why not? They can‟t do anything about it now. I‟ll be a First Elite



                                                                                        21
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


already.”
        Thomas and Seth shrugged, and then they all headed out towards the big field,
which had been recently bedecked with paper ornaments and beautiful woodcarvings of
soldiers for the occasion. Neva was dressed in full armor as she followed the other guys
out. They all lined up in neat orderly rows. She went to the small curtained area behind
the makeshift stage where she was supposed to go. Neva quickly changed into her robe,
and left her boots, gauntlets, and helmet on. She placed the cuirass on over her robe and
waited for her time to come.
        “Today,” Balks began, “you will become Elites. You will be the finest the
military of Liam has to offer. Your blood may be shed and your brother‟s blood may be
shed, but always know that for every drop of Liam blood that is spilled, it is only right to
kill one more enemy. The honor is yours. I bless all of you and grant you…Elites.” Next,
Father Crowe came and gave a small speech about protecting the well-being of Liam and
its people.
        He then announced, “Now, will our First Elite please come to the front and give a
speech?” Neva made her way out of the curtained area and onto the stage.
        She faced the ranks of men before her and began her speech, “I have spent two
long years in this place. I would say they were well spent. I have learned much here. One
thing that will always stand out to me is to make your choices. One old but wise man told
me, „You are who you choose to be.‟ I see you wonder why I bring this up. For the past
two years, I chose to be Chris. Chris is a lie.” Faces become distorted in confusion as she
spoke her words.
        “Allow me to demonstrate.” Neva slipped her cuirass over her head and threw her
helmet off. Her chestnut hair, which had finally grown out, spilled about her shoulders.
        In her normal voice she said, “I choose to be Neva.” The men let out loud gasps.
A loud murmuring arose within the crowd. In the very back, she saw a familiar face. It
was the Lord‟s son. His dark eyes shone behind his round spectacles. Across his face a
smile formed.
        “You can‟t be serious!” Captain Balks yelled.
        Neva raised a brow and said, “I can and am, sir.”
        “No, no. There is no way our best man is a woman. This will not be allowed, First
Elite or not. GUARDS!” he yelled.
        “Son of a—” Neva yelled as she jumped off the stage and ran across the field.
        Encouraging yells and whistles could be heard from the men standing in the
ranks. She ran by the old training arena. There she grabbed two longswords and quickly
placed them in her belt. Three guards yelled as she did. Neva jumped up the ladder and
ran on top of the fort walls. Many guards stood motionless watching the odd event. A
lady running from guards was not a common occurrence within the fort. Neva came to a
corner of the parapet. They were still chasing her, and as she looked up, she saw a group
of four guards running from the other side. She shrugged, and then took a lunge off the
side of the wall.
        Neva freefell headfirst to the ground. She caught herself with her hands and rolled
to her feet, a trick she‟d picked up from playing in the treetops with Thomas. She fled
down a narrow alleyway. She sat behind a temple breathing heavily.
        “How the—” guards from the fort shouted.
        Another guards yelled, “Don‟t look at me. I‟m not pulling any stunts like that to



                                                                                          22
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


go get her.”
        Neva heard the Captain, “Chris! Neva! Whoever the hell you are! I‟m warning
you now. If you return to this fort, I‟ll personally escort you to the jails!” Then, he
mumbled, “My best soldier is a woman. I can‟t believe that.” Neva sighed heavily and sat
leaning against the stone temple wall.

                                [Travels with a Stranger]

          “So you‟ve had a brush with the law?” a deep, male voice asked.
          Neva turned and replied, “I was the law moments ago, but those people…” She
sighed once more. The man who had spoken was a rather curious man. He was seated
leaning against the wall. He wore a dark-colored robe, an ambiguous black, blue, and
brown. He had a dark brown leather cuirass on over his robe. On a black belt, he wore a
sheathed sword. His eyes were a dark, steely grey, similar to Neva‟s. His hair was inches
from being shoulder-length, and it was a definite black.
          Neva realized that this person was a Canute, a being who was a mix of Lycan and
human. Canutes were old, foreign races not often seen in Liam due to their connections
with Lycans. Their bodies were human in appearance, with very distinct ears and eyes.
They had the instincts and strength of a Lycan, which made them deadly. Canutes were
known for loyalty and unmerciful to their foes. Neva was slightly surprised as seeing one
at all, though not entirely fearful of him.
           “I‟m guessing your name is Neva,” he said as he leaned against the wall, peering
at the name sewn into her robe.
          She nodded, “Yes. What‟s your name?”
          “Hisao,” he said. “So, tell me your story. It‟s not often one sees a woman running
from guards in a fort.”
          Neva smirked and said, “Or maybe you just don‟t see women period?”
          “Hmm, this one bites,” Hisao said.
          “Anyway, it‟s better you not knowing. Maybe I‟ll see you another time, sir,” she
said over her shoulder. As she took a step around the corner, Hisao pulled her back
forcefully. Just as she was about to say something, she saw a hail of crossbow bolts
become embedded into the ground she was about to step upon.
          She gasped, “Thanks. What good reflexes you‟ve got, eh?”
          “Yes,” he gave a small smile revealing his sharp canines. He sat back down
against the wall.
          “You‟re a Canute, aren‟t you?” she asked.
          He replied, “Only part.” His grey eyes averted slightly to the ground.
          “Oh, I don‟t have a problem with them. Just curious since I‟ve never met one,”
she said hastily. Hisao gave her a silent nod in response. She sighed as she began pacing
behind the church. There were buildings surrounding the small alley on three sides. That
left the guarded alley out the only exit.
          He rose to his feet, which were bare, and said, “Come on. I‟ll help you out of
here.”
          “How?” Neva asked. As she asked, Hisao leapt to the ledge of a second-story
window on a building in one jump.
          She scoffed and remarked, “What a show off.”



                                                                                          23
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


        “If I was showing off I‟d have jumped to the roof,” he replied grinning.
        Neva shouted, “You can‟t expect me to jump up there.” Hisao rolled his eyes. He
opened the window and climbed inside. She watched curiously to see when he‟d emerge.
Moments later, a knotted rope came jettisoning out the window.
        He shouted down to her as he leaned out the window, “I don‟t expect you to jump.
I expect you to climb.”
        Neva grinned in amusement and began climbing the rope. As she reached the top,
he lent an arm. Hisao pulled in the rope and shut the window. Fortunately, the building
they had climbed into was an abandoned home. They made their way downstairs and out
the door of the empty house.
        “Follow me,” he whispered.
        Neva glanced at him unsure and asked, “How do I know I can trust you?”
        “Because I could have just let you die from the crossbows,” he replied.
        “Good point. I have the feeling you‟ll use that against me again later,” she
laughed. He gave her a sly smile. Then, Hisao motioned for her to follow him through the
multitudes of people swarming the wide, city streets.
        He said over his shoulder, “We‟ll need a way out of the city.” Neva thought about
Thomas and Seth. She didn‟t want to leave them behind, but she had to leave. Neva
promised herself she‟d return to find them as soon as she could. Neva‟s eyes peered
through the various shops. There was a small stable selling donkeys.
        “Hey, Dog-boy, what about a donkey?” she asked.
        He turned around and snarled, “Never call me „Dog-boy‟.” Hisao cracked his
knuckles loudly and gripped the blade at his side. Neva scoffed loudly and pulled her
robe back revealing her two longswords.
        “The reason as to why I was in the fort was because I was training, so don‟t think
that just because I am a woman I can‟t use them,” she retorted. Hisao‟s appearance
changed, and he cleared his throat.
        He sighed, “Very well. Anyway, I suppose the donkeys are our only way out. Just
follow my lead.”
        “What? Follow your lead?” Neva scoffed. “I follow my own. Thanks.”
        “Come on. Quit being difficult,” he grumbled as he yanked her by the arm into
the small stable. A man was petting the nose of one of the donkeys as they approached.
        “Hello. Have you any need for a good donkey?” the man asked.
        Hisao replied, “Why yes. I‟ve a great need for two donkeys. We just received
word that our mother is very sick. We have to get to her but cannot afford other means of
transportation. This is our last resort.”
        “I don‟t know,” said the salesman. “You‟re a Canute; I don‟t know if I trust you
or not.”
        “Sir,” Neva sobbed, frowning in a most pitiful manner, “he‟s…adopted. My
mother is the only home he has, and I sure would be sad if she passed away while we
were here. Please, sir.” She sniffed lightly and wiped a faux tear from her eye.
        “Oh please, my good lady, do not cry! I tell you what. I have a nice stallion I will
give to you free of charge. He‟s a strong horse and quite rare. No one has bought him, uh,
since the horse market has not been so good. I will give your good brother a donkey at
half price,” the man offered.
        Neva smiled and replied, “Oh thank you. May the Gods praise your name, my



                                                                                         24
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


good sir.” The man went to the back of the stables to retrieve the horse. Neva turned to
Hisao and smirked.
        “See? Told you I could handle it,” she whispered.
        He scoffed and replied, “I can‟t believe you did that. That was…ingenious.”
Hisao laughed quietly.
        The man returned, tugging a large, palomino stallion. The stallion refused to be
led by his hand. Neva walked over to the horse and peered at the great creature silently.
She grabbed the halter firmly.
        “I‟ve got him,” Neva said to the man. He nodded nervously and scrambled to one
of the donkey‟s stalls. The horse stood unwilling to move. Neva slipped the saddle off his
back and then took the halter off his head.
        The man asked, “What are you doing?”
        “I‟ve got him. I told you,” she replied. As she dropped the leather halter to the
ground the horse relaxed and looked at her curiously. She smoothly mounted his back
and still the stallion remained calm.
        “You‟re crazy,” Hisao said as he walked up leading his donkey. “That thing‟s not
a normal horse. I can smell it.”
        Neva smiled, “I may be crazy, but I like him. Besides, he‟s better than a donkey.”
She suppressed a small laugh.
        He grumbled, “I had to pay ten in silver for the animal. See, there is something
about that horse. That man ran inside his house.”
        “Oh be thankful it‟s not in gold, cheapskate. I got you that for much less,” Neva
replied. “Let‟s go.”
        He glanced at her, “I haven‟t the faintest on how to even mount this thing, and
you‟re not planning to ride like that without a saddle, are you?”
        “It‟s simple, Dog-boy. Just get on the donkey and don‟t hurt him. Then, you put
your feet in those stirrups there. Ride with a straight back and hands easy on the reins. To
answer your question, yes. I plan on riding without a saddle.”
        “Crazy,” he mumbled.
        Neva grinned as she nodded at him. Hisao mounted the donkey, and they went on
their way. Though he was new, he learned the basic arts of horsemanship quickly. The
horse cooperated very well with Neva‟s commands. Even at the twitch of a knee, the
stallion knew what she needed from him. They reached the large gates of Helix.
        “Where are we going exactly?” Neva asked.
        “Anywhere but here,” he replied. She thought about returning to Piliad. She
figured she could work in Jeremy‟s shop for a few years. She didn‟t know what Hisao
wanted to do though. They rode past the gates and out of the city of Helix. They came to
a fork in the road. One way led to the south and the other led to the north.
        “Which way?” Neva asked.
        Hisao smiled and said, “Let‟s make our own path.” He kicked his donkey straight
eastwards. The hills of the east were the only things in view. Neva laughed and followed
after him. Soon the city of Helix became small. The sun was beginning to sink behind
Helix.
        “Now that we‟re out here alone,” he said, “would you care to tell how you came
to be here?”
        Neva heaved a small sigh, “Well, I suppose I could.” She told him her entire



                                                                                          25
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


story. She began with how Jeremy had found her until the very moment she ran down the
alley behind the church.
        When she finished he nodded solemnly and said, “What an odd character. I have
never before heard of a woman joining the Liam army like that or evening thinking such.
I can‟t believe you acted like a young man for so long without getting caught by the
Captain.” He laughed heartily.
        “Your turn. You tell me where you come from, Dog-boy.” She replied.
        He growled, “Would you quit already?”
        “No,” she smirked.
        “You‟re more difficult than I am,” he sighed. “Anyway, my story isn‟t much. I
lived in South Liam for a long time. Our family had a hard time with all the Orcs, so all
through my teens I learned to fend for myself. Finally in my twenties, I came to Liam
looking for pretty much anything.”
        “Did you find anything?” Neva asked.
        “Well,” he answered, “I believe I did. See, I found an old man living on the
Carrick Coast. He was a hermit monk. His son was grown and left the house. I lived with
that man for a long time, until he passed away, which was about six years ago. I‟ve been
wandering alone since, but I did learn a lot of things from that man, which I still keep
with me.”
        “So how old are you exactly?” Neva inquired, perking a brow.
        “I‟m fifty-two,” he answered.
        She replied with a small chuckle, “Well, my guess was far off.” Neva looked
down at the stallion. His ears were perked back as if listening to them. “Hmm, you think
Silverwave is a good name for him?”
        “What?”
        “Do you think Silverwave is a nice name for the stallion?” she said.
        Hisao glanced at her, “You‟re naming the beast. You must have taken too many
knocks in training.”
        She scoffed, “I happen to like this horse. I plan to keep him, and I‟m naming him
Silverwave. You should name your donkey.”
        “You want me to name my donkey?” He glared at her disapprovingly.
        Neva shrugged, “Well, I think he‟s really cute and deserves a name.”
        “I bet you‟d name fish in the sea,” he mumbled.
        “If you won‟t name him, I will. Hmm, he‟s a normal, grey donkey. He‟s not an
ass like you though.” Hisao glared at her with slight contempt. “Prince is a nice name for
the fellow,” she said.
        “You are not going to name the donkey Prince,” he scowled.
        Neva grinned, “Too late. His name is Prince. I mean we could always get another
and name that one Princess. Then we could change his name to King, but until then, his
name is Prince.”
        Hisao sighed shaking his head, “I can‟t believe you named the donkey Prince.” A
smile broke through his stern expression as he scratched the donkey behind the ears.
They continued east to wherever awaited them. Neva was willing to travel anywhere for
the sake of adventure. The sun sank behind Helix as they reached the base of a large hill.
The stars emerged from the deep blue sky and shone brightly.
        “Just around this hill there‟s a small village. I‟m sure they‟ll have somewhere to



                                                                                        26
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


stay.” Hisao said. “We‟ll need more money though, unless you keep something in that
little robe of yours.”
         Neva perked a brow, “Something wrong with my robe, Dog-boy? And no, I don‟t
have any money. I just came from training at Fort Derelict. Of course I don‟t have any
money.”
         “Well, we‟ll need to find a way to get more,” he said.
         Neva said sharply, “I‟m not stealing.”
         “Who said we‟ll steal?” he replied.
         “Anyway, we‟ll just have to find some sort of work. I can do minimal work in a
smith‟s shop or something,” she said. Hisao nodded silently. They rode onwards around
the large hill. The night sky was pitch black as they saw small fires in a village.
         “That‟s it,” he said. Neva was very tired at this time. She had awoken early in the
morning for her graduation and not rested since then. When they entered the village,
many shops and homes were closed for the night. The only open place was the tavern,
and luckily in the window there was a sign advertising its rooms. Neva dismounted her
stallion and looked it in the eyes briefly before leaving him. Hisao followed and groaned
in pain as he walked up the steps.
         Neva laughed, “Saddle sore, eh?”
         “Shut up,” he grumbled. She walked through the open tavern door and found an
array of men sitting about drinking and laughing. The place smelled strongly of beer and
reeked with the stench of sweat. She walked straight up to the barkeeper.
         “Hey barkeep. I need a room for the night. Think you can offer a filly like me
something cheap. Preferably free.” She looked him dead in the eyes.
         He thought for a moment and then replied, “The only way you‟ll be getting a free
room is if it‟s with me or one of them.” He laughed in her face. She scoffed loudly. She
scowled at the man and pulled her robe back slightly revealing one of her blades.
         “I‟m serious,” she said firmly.
         Hisao pulled her arm, “This is not the place.”
         “Hush!” she hissed.
         The barkeep gave a laugh, “You would fight for a room?”
         “Tell you what. You give me any man in this room to fight. We‟ll make a bet. I
bet I could beat him and you give me a room for free. If I lose, well, I‟ll be dead and
you‟ll get my horse. He‟s worth this whole tavern,” she said.
          “You‟re crazy, Neva. This isn‟t going to work,” Hisao whispered.
         Neva replied, “It will. Just trust me. Leaving it to me worked last time, didn‟t it?”
Hisao sighed and nodded in reply.
         “So, my good sir, who will you be sending to his death?” Neva asked.
         “If you say miss,” the barkeep said. “Hey! Any man out here willing to fight
this…woman? The winner gets that handsome stallion out there.”
         A large man who‟d obviously drunken much rose and stated, “I‟ll take anyone!”
         The barkeep smiled, “Okay, Henry. This is going to be interesting. Let‟s go
outside.”
         Neva walked outside a few paces away from the tavern and stood ready for
anything. Hisao stood by Silverwave and Prince nervously petting their manes. A large
crowd was gathering to watch the spectacle. The large man ambled out of the tavern
wielding a large warhammer.



                                                                                            27
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


        “Alright, this is the fight of Henry Smith and…” He peered at the glittering
embroidery on her chest, “…Neva. Yes. I‟d say have a clean fight, but this is a death
match so it doesn‟t matter. Begin!”
        The man named Henry lunged forward madly swinging his hammer. Neva rolled
her eyes and merely sidestepped as he skidded past her. She drew both longblades at
once. The dual blades felt odd, but she knew it‟d make up for lack of shield. He swung
the hammer around his side. Neva crossed her blades and blocked his blow. The wooden
handle was caught between her two blades, the firm, sharp ends of the blades biting into
the wood. She then uncrossed them, snapping his wooden handle. Neva jumped back as
the warhammer‟s head plunged to the ground.
        A large gasp came from the on-looking crowd as the man stared in disbelief at the
broken hammer. A smiled flashed across Hisao‟s face. Neva put one of her blades in its
place on her belt. She pressed the other against the man‟s neck. Something within her
blood and her very soul caused her to slice the blade through the man‟s neck. She didn‟t
realize the violence she had executed until the man‟s body had hit the ground. Loud
cheers streamed from the crowd until they slowly dissipated, heading back into the tavern
for more drinks. Though she was a winner, she felt nothing. Neva had an emptiness
inside of her. The emptiness was soon replaced with shock as she fully realized that she
had killed a man.
        “Wow. That was amazing,” Hisao complemented. “I didn‟t know you had it in
you, Neva. Hmm, shows how much I know sometimes.” Neva nodded but didn‟t say
anything. The sleep she got that night was full, but she still felt the guilt of what she had
done. When she came down the tavern steps the next morning several people commented
on the fight the night earlier.
        “Hello ma‟am! I‟m Logan. I saw that stellar sight last night,” a little boy said.
        Neva nodded, “Yeah.”
        “If there‟s anything at all you need, just ask! I‟d be willing to serve a lady of your
stature,” he said.
        “Go get me some food. Then, get my Dog-boy some food. When you‟re done
with that get me about two weeks worth of food in packs,” Neva mumbled sarcastically.
        He nodded, “I shall!”
        “Seriously?” she asked. Logan gave an enthusiastic nod and scurried off. He
returned with two plates of eggs and sausage. Then, he disappeared into the city.
        “Odd people…” she muttered.
        Hisao came behind her and grunted, “What‟s this?”
        “Food. Eat up. I got it free,” she said as she forked a piece of egg into her mouth.
        He glared and replied, “You are such a cheapskate.”
        Neva perked a brow replying, “You want me to kick your ass too?” He shook his
head hastily and then sat down to begin eating. It was a good meal after having not eaten
anything the day before. Soon, Logan returned with a large sack all bundled up with
supplies.
        Logan said happily, “I‟ve got it all here, ma‟am. Anything else you might need?”
        “No,” she replied. Then she reached into Hisao‟s pocket and grabbed a few silver
coins. “Here‟s some payment for your trouble, kid.” The boy looked at the money in awe.
        “Thank you…” he said. Then he ran off counting his money.
        “Hey! That was mine. Is something the matter?” he asked, noticing her eyes



                                                                                            28
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


seemed to be cast uncharacteristically downwards.
         She shrugged, “I don‟t know. I feel, well, bad about killing that man.”
         “Oh, that‟s what. Don‟t let it get to you. I‟ve…done enough myself. Sometimes
it‟s really the only way. Sometimes it is unjust, but don‟t let killing some oaf get you too
down,” he said. She gave him a nod, and then she began thinking momentarily.
         “I‟ve got it,” Neva said.
         “What?”
         She whispered, “Well, I have a way we can make money. If you set up a fight for
me and then takes bets, I‟d fight. I‟ll play like I can‟t even hold a sword properly. That
will draw any weak fighter‟s attention, and I‟ll be sure to win. If you take enough bets,
then we should generate quite a revenue.”
         Hisao scoffed loudly, “That is awful. I like it. We can‟t do it in this town though.
Half of these people know you can sling a sword well.”
         Neva laughed, “That‟s funny. I‟ve never heard „sling a sword‟ before.”
         “Well, you sure can,” he replied. “Let‟s get to the next town. It‟s a good ride from
here.”
         “We can take our time. I got two weeks of supplies free of charge,” Neva smiled.
         “I bet that kid stole it,” he muttered.
         She laughed, “And…?”
         “Good point. Let‟s go,” Hisao said as he rose from the table. They packed the bag
of supplies on the donkey. Neva found Silverwave was not where she had left him. The
stallion was grazing down the road a bit, his beautiful mane shining in the midday sun.
         Neva whistled and yelled, “Silverwave!”
         The stallion‟s ears perked straight up as he lifted his head. He trotted towards
Neva and nuzzled her with his nose. She laughed as she mounted his unsaddled back. She
loved the feel of riding a horse bareback. She merely tapped his belly with her heel and
Silverwave trotted happily eastwards followed by Hisao and the donkey, Prince.
         They rode for two days to the town of Dalen. It was small, yet it was bigger than
the one they had previously been.
         “Here they have a gang. It‟s called Eastern Venombacks. They‟re a pretty tight
bunch. They don‟t have much talent for fighting though. I‟ll get them started,” Hisao
informed Neva in a hushed tone. She gave him a quick nod.
         Then she asked, “How do you know all these things?”
         “I‟ve been around,” he replied. They rode down a dank alleyway where they
found a small cellar door.
         “Wait out here and I‟ll get one out here, probably the leader,” he said. Then he
turned to the door and knocked loudly four times.
         “I request the E.V.‟s leader. Is Derrick the Shining still the leader?”
         An answer came back, “Yes. He is. Why do you request him?”
         “Well, there‟s a lady who‟s spreading rumors about you. She says you guys have
been stealing the goats from her husband‟s barn,” he replied as he winked at Neva.
         “This is a lie. Is the woman here?” the voice asked.
         “Yes,” Hisao replied. The door opened and a man dressed in plain leather armor
walked out. His hair was very dark brown and quite long. He perked a brow.
         “Canute…is this the woman you speak of?” the man asked.
         He answered, “It is, Sir Derrick.”



                                                                                           29
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


        “Why do you speak these falsehoods, woman?” Derrick inquired.
        Neva replied, “They are not. I know you have been stealing my husband‟s goats.”
He glared at Neva bitterly.
        “You lie. Women that lie merely deserve the bite of my steel blade.”
        “I bite back,” Neva retorted.
        He smirked, “So you do? I hear a challenge.”
        She said firmly, “I offer one.”
        “Derrick the Shining accepts it,” he said. “Tonight at midnight meet me in the
back of the town center. Foolish woman…”
        Neva smiled pleasantly and said with cheer, “Okay! Thanks pal. I‟ll see you then.
This will be lots of fun.” He gave her an inquisitive glance. Hisao shrugged and pulled
her out of the alley as the donkey and stallion followed.
        “I daresay you are very bright,” Neva complimented.
        He laughed, “Well, thank you. I‟ve just got connections, and I hear things.”
        “Oh, from whom did you hear about them stealing my husband‟s goats?” inquired
Neva with a smirk.
        “Quiet, woman,” he mumbled as he elbowed her playfully.
        They waited the day out until the time had finally come to meet the gang. They
rode to the back of the town center and there stood a myriad of people.
        “Well, the E.V. has certainly gained some publicity over the years,” Hisao noted.
“This will be interesting.” Neva spotted Derrick standing in the midst of the crowd.
        “Hey goat-stealer! Let‟s get it on, eh?” she laughed amusedly. The crowed jeered
at Neva. She could definitely see whose side they were on.
        “As you wish,” Derrick said smirking. “Where‟s your blade?”
        “Did you mean this one?” Neva asked pulling the longsword from the belt under
her robe. “Or this one?” she asked as she unsheathed the second one. Derrick looked at
her wordlessly. She laughed menacingly as she readied herself. The crowd backed up
forming a tight circle around the two fighters.
        “Very well. I see you have two blades, but do you have the skill?” he asked.
        Neva replied, “Come see, why don‟t you?”
        Both approached each other and slowly circled. Her enemy was wielding a katana
that wasn‟t too badly fashioned. Derrick made the first lunge at Neva. He took a quick
slash for her right side. She parried this just as quickly as he had administered it. The
crowd yelled Derrick‟s name loudly as he pulled his blade back. He tried a tricky series
of quick thrashings about her waist. Each move was blocked and successfully countered.
She could almost foresee his movements. The man lacked any trickery or pure skill.
        Neva quickly spotted that his boots and greaves didn‟t meet and left a small
unprotected place. She picked this spot to be his weak point. She thrust her right blade
towards his neck. He blocked this but didn‟t manage to catch her left blade which sliced
into the muscle on his leg and sent him off his feet. The crowd gasped and murmured
loudly. Derrick landed on his back, and his leg became coated in blood and dirt. Neva
placed a blade lightly at the man‟s chest.
        “What are you last words, Derrick the Shining in Blood?” Neva sneered.
        The man was in a daze as he replied, “I have none…”
        Once again the blinding rage ran through her blood, giving her initiative to kill.
She drove the blade into his chest and his eyes rolled back into his head. The crowd fell



                                                                                        30
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


silent.
        Then, Hisao began chanting, “Neva! Neva!” The crowd noisily joined in the loud
cheering.
        He ran up to Neva holding three sacks of gold coinage and yelled, “Look at this! I
took about seven bets, and I got all this! I mean, we did! That was awesome out there. I
think this is going to work well.” Neva laughed as she took the blade from the man‟s
chest. She wiped the blood and carnage on his shirt before putting both swords into their
scabbards.
        “I had fun,” she said grinning happily.
        Hisao looked at all the money in his hands, “I had fun too…”
        She looked at the money and said, “You know, we‟ll need somewhere to stow
that. We can‟t carry it around.”
        “We need a hideout,” he stated. Neva nodded but had no clue where they would
go to find such a place. Hisao paused quickly before saying, “I have someplace in mind.
Anyway, we should get some rest. I do believe there is an inn here.” They stayed at the
local inn for the night and prepared to leave the next morning. She saw Hisao packing the
donkey and noticed the money wasn‟t there.
        “Where‟s the money?” she asked.
        He whispered, “I put it in our stowaway place.”
        She inquired, “Which is where?”
        “The old home I used to live in on the Carrick Coast. Trust me. It‟s safe and no
one knows it‟s there. If someone even did come across it they‟d think it was just an old
shack,” he said.
        “How did you get all the way to the coast and back?” Neva asked as she mounted
Silverwave.
        “That is my little secret. Don‟t worry about it. It‟s safe and secret,” Hisao ensured
her. She nodded, but she couldn‟t help but feel a little suspicious.
        As they left town that day many people waved at Neva and shouted her name.
Some bid her a good journey and others wished that she would stay. She smiled and
waved back at the people but felt a little awkward.
        “Look, you‟re famous!” laughed Hisao.
        They traveled to a new city each day and made a good amount of money from
each. Neva soon bought herself black leather armor, and a black leather helm which
covered her face. Soon, people were hearing of this mysterious robed maiden. Before
they‟d get a chance to scam, the people would offer great fighters. The challengers were
much tougher than the other ones that had been conned. In some places, the citizens
would be at the gate, hoping for a glimpse of the mysterious fighter.
        While Neva was in the spotlight of the crowds, Hisao always snuck around in the
back taking large bets on winners. He became very slick with the tongue and could get
even the stingiest man to take a gamble. The money they earned always went to the shack
on the coast. Neva still didn‟t know how he managed to get there and back with all the
money, but she forced herself to trust him. They grew to be close friends.
        One hot, sun-drenched day, they were riding on the dusty path to yet another
town. Neva still rode her beautiful stallion Silverwave, and Hisao rode Prince the donkey
evermore. He became attached to the little fellow over time, and Neva would say he
loved the little, grey donkey. Hisao, being stubborn, would never admit it though.



                                                                                           31
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         They decided to ride off the path and by the river to give their steeds a drink.
There was a shady spot by the bank of the Dover River. Hisao took the saddle and bags
off Prince and let him get a drink with Silverwave. Neva took off her helm and gauntlets,
and then she made her way down to the river to wash her face.
         As she dipped her hands into the cool water a man in a black robe fell down the
bank and into the river. He appeared unconscious and didn‟t move. Neva slipped her
leather greaves and boots off and waded into the river water. She lifted the man out of the
river and pulled him to the grassy embankment. Neva wrung her sopping robe out onto
his face. The man coughed as his eyes flickered open.
         “Wha…what?” he sputtered hoarsely.
         “Don‟t ask me what happened, „cause hell if I know. You fell down here and into
the river. I just did the „good citizen‟ thing and pulled you out,” Neva said smiling. Hisao
walked over and looked at the man.
         “Are you alright?” he asked the man.
         The robed man seemed to regain his senses and answered, “Yes. I‟m fine. Thanks
to this lady here. What‟re your names?”
         “I‟m Neva, and this Dog-boy here is Hisao,” Neva said.
         Hisao glared at her, “I told you to quit that already.”
         “Hush, Pup,” she hissed. Hisao walked back over towards Prince, mumbling
angrily to himself. Neva helped the man to his feet.
         “What‟s your name, sir?” she asked.
         “I am Sekei Othedius. You really are Neva. I‟ve heard about you. They say you
can wield a blade like no other,” the man said. His black robe was drenched. His eyes
gave him the appearance of a man just a few years older than herself. He had a small
goatee and short black hair. He appeared rather fine-looking.
         She blushed lightly and replied, “Well, I‟m just trained. That‟s all.”
         “Of course,” he said smiling charmingly. “I thank you very much for what you
did. If there is anything at all you may need from a simple mage like me, just ask, my
dear.” He gently kissed her hand.
         Neva couldn‟t help but blush even more and replied, “It was nothing.”
         “You‟re such a modest girl. Well, I sure hope I see you again sometime. I‟ll be
listening around for you,” he said as he walked away. Hisao glared at her. She peered at
him a perked a brow.
         “What!” she inquired.
         When the man disappeared, Hisao said, “You are a sucker for charm and
gentlemanliness, aren‟t you?”
         “You be quiet! He was nice. I think all men should be nice,” she said glaring at
him.
         He glared back defiantly, “Hey! I‟m nice to you…sometimes.”
         “Yeah, did you mean the times when I was asleep or what?” said Neva
sarcastically.
         “Now, you are being mean!” Hisao shouted.
         “I know,” she grinned widely. He rolled his eyes in reply.
         He scoffed under his breath, “Females…” Hisao placed the saddle on the donkey
as Neva mounted Silverwave.
         They set off for yet another city. Neva was beginning to get bored with this



                                                                                          32
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


existence, but it was earning them revenue. Soon, her kills amassed to well past the
thirties. It was then that people began thinking of her as not a skilled fighter but a killer
and a menace to fear. She continued traveling still but always had to watch for guards.
Neva‟s identity became a villain. She didn‟t seem to care though. For many months she
ran from the law but continued fighting. People began to offer her money to kill someone
in a fight, rather than taking bets. She was paid to fight all sorts of people and even
creatures. She killed Lycans of the Delta clan many times, demon creatures of various
types, Orcs, and even wild animals.
         It was about a year after she had left Fort Derelict, and Hisao came up to her with
a message. “Hey Neva. Someone gave me this to give to you,” he said as he handed her a
note.
         She looked at it curiously then read it out loud, “Dear Neva. How have you been?
I‟ve heard many things about you. Some were good, and some were bad. I have returned
to Piliad as a guard. I will, however, get stationed at Fort Witherfroth to be a guard there.
I‟m hoping you‟ll stop by this old village. Jeremy misses you a lot. I do, too. Your friend,
Thomas Lowet.” When she finished, she merely stared at it in disbelief. Her lower jaw
quivered lightly as she retained herself to keep from crying.
         “Who‟s Thomas?” Hisao asked.
         Neva replied, “He‟s an old friend. Come on. Let‟s get to Piliad.”
         “What? Right now?” he exclaimed. Neva‟s reply was merely a brief nod.
         She swiftly mounted her stallion and directed him south. They rode quickly and
with great length. Neva wanted to see Jeremy and Thomas. She longed to see the fields of
Piliad and its simple shops. She wondered though what they would think of her. With a
reputation like Neva had, she didn‟t know if they would accept her as she was. She only
hoped for the best and rode south.
         It took them four days to get all the way to Piliad. They rode up the large hill just
north of Piliad. They got to the crest of the hill, and Neva peered down at the small
village. When she did, she found things were exactly as they were the day she had left
about three years ago. As she looked down at the homes and shops sitting nestled
together, Neva felt a tear gently slide down her cheek. She wiped it away and sniffed
loudly.
         “Are you alright?” Hisao asked.
         She replied, “I‟m fine. Let‟s go.”
         Neva directed Silverwave down the hill and past the fields of goats. They bleated
and trotted after the two as they rode down the dusty dirt path. Neva remembered how
she‟d walk past these fields with Thomas. They always would try to race the goats to the
other end but were never quite fast enough to beat them.
         Neva rode past the temple where she was found. As she looked at the statues of
the numerous saints, she felt yet another tear slide down her cheek. She sighed and wiped
it away quickly. Several people stared at Neva. Some stood motionless in fear and others
stood in awe. Finally, they reached Jeremy‟s smith shop.
         “Here it is,” she whispered.
         Hisao nodded to her, “You go in. I‟ll watch Silver.”
         Neva nodded and dismounted quickly. She took her mask-like helmet off. Then,
she took a deep breath and made her way to the door. As she opened it, she found a scene
so familiar that it made her smile. Jeremy was leaning against his counter. Thomas was



                                                                                            33
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


there talking with Jeremy about armor.
         “I see you two are working hard,” she said smiling widely.
         Jeremy turned around quickly, “Oh my…Neva!” He jumped over the counter and
ran towards her. Thomas quickly followed after. The two men embraced her in their arms
tightly.
         “Where have you been, Neva?” Jeremy asked.
         Thomas added, “Yeah, where the hell did you go that day? No one could find you,
and trust me, we looked.”
         “I‟ll tell you, but let me go get the guy who‟s helped me all along,” Neva replied.
         She opened the door and said, “Hey, Dog-boy. Come in.” Hisao raised a brow and
left Prince standing aside Silverwave. He walked inside and peered at the two men.
         Neva said, “This is Hisao. He‟s part Canute, but don‟t worry. I got this pup
trained like a hunting dog.” He scoffed loudly.
         “It‟d be you who needs training, Swordslinger. You‟re a „villain‟ after all,” he
mumbled. Neva laughed loudly. Then, she told the story of from when she left until she
reached Piliad. Hisao made some cheeky comments to fill in his parts. She skipped a
good amount of details in some places, however, with good reason.
         When she finished, Thomas remarked, “I always knew you were an odd one,
Neva.” Jeremy and Hisao laughed together.
         Then Jeremy asked, “Are you going to stay?” Neva had not even given a thought
as to how long she was planning to be in Piliad.
         “Stay…?” she whispered.
         “Well,” said Thomas, “I was hoping you‟d come to stay when I sent the letter.”
She looked at Hisao whose expression was impassive as it usually looked.
         “If you want to stay, it‟s alright. It‟s not like we don‟t have enough money to live
off of for years or anything.” He gave her a smile. His smile assured her all would be
fine, but Neva felt like she was abandoning him.
         She shrugged, “I really don‟t know. I‟d love to be home. I‟m a wanted woman
though. I don‟t know if I want to put Jeremy in that position really, and I‟d be leaving
Hisao. We‟ve been good pals. I…”
         “You should stay, Neva. Don‟t worry about me. I can take care of myself. I‟m not
a puppy as you constantly say. You need some rest, and you need to relax for once,”
Hisao said. After some persuasion and assurance, Neva finally agreed to stay home for
awhile.
         “Good,” Hisao said. “I‟ll come around every now and then to see you. Take good
care of yourself, Neva.” He left the shop and out the window Neva saw him trot down the
road on Prince. Silverwave nickered loudly after Prince.
         “You too…” she mumbled uselessly. Jeremy gave her a hug and decided to close
his shop early.
         That night, Thomas, Jeremy, and Neva all had dinner together. It was a silent one
however. There was no laughter or talking. Neva felt reclusive and when she was asked
something she gave short answers. Finally, she just left the dinner altogether. She went to
her room. It, like Piliad, hadn‟t changed in the slightest since she had left. Drawings
given to her from Thomas littered her desk, and books were stacked haphazardly in
miscellaneous places in the room. She lay on her bed, silently resisting the painful urge to
cry.



                                                                                          34
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


        She heard Jeremy‟s voice in the other room, “She‟ll come around, I‟m sure. She
needs time. Neva‟s been away for three years. It‟s been hard on her.”
        “Yes. Hopefully she‟ll come around soon,” Thomas said. Then, she heard him
walk out the door. Jeremy‟s sigh echoed through the small home. Finally, she got up and
took her armor off. Then, she decided to speak to Jeremy. She found him sitting at the
table drinking.
        “Jeremy?” she said.
        “Yes, Neva?” he replied turning in his chair. Neva sat next to him at the table.
        She asked, “Do you really not know anything about my parents?”
        He heaved a large sigh, “Neva, we‟ve been through this so many times when you
were young. I don‟t know your parents at all. I just found you in your cradle at the
temple. Is that what‟s been bothering you?”
        “Yes. It has been bothering me, a great deal too,” she said firmly. “I‟ve become
someone, and I‟ve made my identity. I just want to know where I come from. It‟s
burrowed within me for so long, but it‟s only an empty hole.”
        “I understand. Sometimes, though, it‟s not always a good thing to know where
you come from,” Jeremy said quietly.
        “What do you mean?” she inquired hastily.
        “I mean that…never mind,” he mumbled.
        Neva asked, “Jeremy, what do you know about my parents?”
        “I told you I don‟t know anything, Neva. I really don‟t. All I was trying to say is
some parents aren‟t good people. There‟s reasons they leave kids like you.”
        “Kids like me?” Neva asked. “What does that mean?”
        “Nothing. You‟re a good kid,” he said hurriedly.
        She sighed and rose from the table. Ignoring Jeremy‟s pleas, she went into her
room and slammed the door. She slipped her robe off and lay on her bed once more. In
the silence, a cry broke out. It was a sharp squawking noise. Neva looked around and saw
a young hawk perched on her window sill. His feathers were a beautiful array of different
shades of brown. The hawk stood completely still as he stared at Neva. She walked over
to the window sill, but he didn‟t fly off.
        “Come on, weird little fellow. Fly off already,” she mumbled as she swung a hand
at him.
        He hopped to the side. The hawk screeched loudly at her, and finally, she noticed
a small note attached to his foot. She carefully took the note off and read it. This is a
trained hawk. Someone of your stature could use him. He responds to the name
‘Barbados’. A faithful admirer. She had no clue as to who the „faithful admirer‟ was, but
the hawk was certainly beautiful.
        “So you‟re Barbados, eh?” Neva whispered. She didn‟t expect any answer, but the
hawk gave a sharp nod. She had an idea to test the reliability of the hawk. Neva grabbed a
small piece of paper and wrote a quick note to Hisao.
        She told the hawk as she wrapped it around his leg, “Barbados, take this to a
Canute named Hisao.” Immediately, he jumped out the window and soared up into the
night sky. She smiled to herself and wondered if the hawk would find him. Neva lay
down in her bed and slept.
        The next morning the hawk flew onto the window sill and screeched loudly. Neva
groggily opened her eyes and looked at him. The hawk flew onto her bed and walked up



                                                                                        35
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


her blanket. He screeched again. Neva sat up in her bed and took a new note off his leg.
N. That little hawk of yours is very smart. He also tried biting my ear off. I’m glad we
have a means of communication. DB.
         She happily stroked the hawk‟s head. Barbados whistled in contentment. Neva
looked at the note and wondered what „DB‟ meant. She knew the note was from Hisao,
since she knew his penmanship was quite sloppy. Then it came to her, Dog-boy. She
smiled to herself and got out of bed. Neva put on her black leather armor, and then she
slipped on her robe. Barbados perched himself on her shoulder. When she walked
outside, she found it was late morning. The village people were going about business as
usual. Some stopped and glanced at Neva as she walked through town. Her image must
have appeared more interesting with a hawk perched on her shoulder.
         When she walked by the village center, she found a scene she never expected to
see. Her stallion was running about the courtyard being chased by young children. She
saw his tail perked up slightly indicating he was playing. It was one of the cutest things
she‟d seen. Several people looked at the stallion curiously wondering who it belonged to.
Neva let out a whistle, and Silverwave came trotting over to her.
         “Silver, what have you been doing?” she asked as she petted his muzzle. He
nickered softly and nuzzled her hand. A number of children came running up to Neva.
         One gasped loudly and said, “Are you the girl on the poster?”
         Neva looked down at him and said, “Show me what poster.”
         He tugged her robe signaling for her to follow. The little boy ran to an empty
market stall where there were many flyers stacked. She picked one up and looked at it.
There was a drawing of Neva in her blue robe. At the top written in big letters were the
words “Neva the Swordslinger.” The paragraph below stated, “Anyone who finds this
woman will receive her bounty in gold coinage. She is a dangerous killer.” Neva smiled
partially and scowled.
         “Is that you?” the little boy asked.
         She gave a nod, “Yeah, son. That‟s me alright. I‟m the Swordslinger.” She gave a
laugh. Neva couldn‟t believe they had named her „Swordslinger‟ as if she was some great
villain. That‟s when she realized that she was. Everything she had done in her life only
amounted to being a villainous scoundrel with two blades. The thought hurt her to even
think of. The youth‟s eyes opened widely.
         He ran to his other friends and shouted, “That‟s the lady on the poster!” The other
boys in his group let out gasps. Six small boys bombarded her with questions. Their
innocence lifted Neva‟s spirits at once.
         “How many bad people did you kill?” one asked.
         Another asked, “Do you have your swords right now? Can we see them?” She
smiled and stood atop the market stall. She told them how she joined the army and fought
bad people. She didn‟t tell them how she scammed to make money or pretended to be a
man for two years. The story came out to be exaggerated and imaginative, but the boys
loved it.
         She told them, “If you want to be a warrior like me, you have to join the Liam
Elites and train hard. You boys should learn about smithing while you‟re young as well.”
         “Yes ma‟am!” they all shouted like little soldiers. She smiled as they ran off to
play „slay the dragon‟ with Silverwave. She watched them try to run up and poke the
stallion with their sticks, but they were never quite fast enough.



                                                                                          36
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


        “Reminds you of us when we were young, doesn‟t it?” a voice said. She turned
and saw Thomas standing next to her smiling.
        She nodded, “Yeah. We used to play „Knight and Orc.‟ You‟d always let me be
the knight, and I‟d always win.”
        “Well, you were too pretty to be the Orc, and I let you win!” he exclaimed.
        “We can always play a quick game of „Knight and Orc‟ right now, Thomas,” she
laughed. “I have two swords…”
        He coughed loudly and said, “Uh, no. Erm, it‟s quite alright. We‟re much too old
for childish games, don‟t you think?” He looked at her inquisitively. Then, he asked, “Do
you really have two swords?” Neva pulled back her robe to show her two longswords
resting in their scabbards at her waist. Thomas went silent.
        “You are really weird,” he finally said. “I mean, who honestly carries two
swords?”
        “Someone that can use them,” she replied. They both laughed together.
        He asked, “What‟s with the little bird?” Barbados screeched loudly, showing his
detest for being called a „little bird.‟
        “He‟s not a little bird,” said Neva. “Barbados is my hawk. He‟s trained.”
        “That‟s amazing. Where‟d you get him from?” Thomas inquired.
        She answered, “Well, I don‟t really know. He just showed up at my window last
night with a note. It was from „A faithful admirer.‟”
        “Hmm, sounds interesting,” he said. Barbados whistled loudly and hopped to
Neva‟s other shoulder. She stroked his head affectionately. For days, she walked to the
town center and told children about her training in Helix. Each time the story became
more and more exaggerated. The way Neva told it, she sounded like a goddess. Often
times she‟d play with the children, and Thomas would join her.
        Other times Neva would help Jeremy in his shop. She began work on new swords.
Her two longswords had served her well, but she wanted ones to specify who she was.
Everyday after all the customers of the day had left, Neva would work on her blades.
When she finally finished, Neva had three new blades. One was a slim, well-crafted
katana. She would have to get used to the length of it first. The next one was a slim
medium sword, and the last was a small blade, which would be used for throwing. She
smiled as she slid each blade into her belt. Then, she placed her two old longswords
behind the counter. As she left the shop, she placed a small sign in the window saying,
“Actual Blades of the Swordslinger.” She knew this would bring people in for Jeremy.
        The next day several men came to barter for the blades. Jeremy was overwhelmed
with people bidding prices higher than three of his fine cuirasses. Neva walked in the
shop and Jeremy ran up and hugged her.
        “You‟re a genius!” he exclaimed.
        Neva smiled and hugged him. She patted his red hair and then helped him find the
highest bidders. She wished that Hisao was around; he had a knack for finding people
with money. After much confusion and bartering deals, one blade was sold. A young man
with plans of joining a fighting guild bought it. Jeremy saved the other blade to give to a
friend at a low price. He was always doing things like that for his valued customers.
        Later in the day, a man Neva recognized as a friend of Jeremy‟s walked into the
store. He talked with Jeremy for some time. Neva looked outside and saw a young
woman who appeared to be just younger than herself. The woman‟s hair was such a light



                                                                                         37
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


shade of flaxen that some strands appeared like silver. Neva did not know who she was
but wondered if the man in the shop was her father. As she looked back at the man with
darker hair, she saw that they didn‟t look of any relationship.
        “Yes. I…have something for you,” Jeremy said in a hushed tone to the man.
        Neva began organizing the shelves of the shop. She looked at the young woman
standing outside once more. Neva saw that she was staring at something or someone in
fear. She said something to whoever she was looking at. The fear on the woman‟s face
grew. Then, the man walked out the door with the blade in a scabbard under his arm.
Relief flooded the young woman‟s face and the two walked down the road. Neva
shrugged it off as she began working once more.
        The next day, Neva worked a full day‟s worth of work in her father‟s shop. Her
smithing proved to be of excellent quality. Jeremy placed a new sign in his window
saying, “Blades Made by the Actual Swordslinger.” These blades didn‟t go for as much
as what Neva‟s old longsword did, but they did bring in a heftier sum than ones made by
Jeremy.
        After work, she went for a ride with Silverwave around the fields and woodlands
of Piliad. The empty fields filled with pale yellow grasses swayed with the wind.
Sometimes it appeared like a sea with a rolling, tidal effect. The sun sank low in the west
as Neva rode across the fields. There was a large stump where an old tree had been. She
saw a small, stone home nearby. In the orange radiance, she saw a man strolling across
the fields towards her. Neva dismounted Silverwave and walked over to him warily.
        “Hello sir.” she called out. “Who might you be?”
        “Why, it‟s the Swordslinger,” the man said. “Do you remember me?” He turned
and smiled widely. In the dim light, Neva saw he had a jet black goatee and hair. His
robes were another shade of black. She remembered this man from long ago.
        “I do recall, Sekei Othedius,” she said.
        “It is certainly a pleasure to see you again, my dear lady. Your reputation, I‟ve
heard, has grown darker since our last meeting,” Sekei said.
        “Yes, I‟ve killed quite a good number. I suppose this scares the public. The city
boys are constantly on the watch for me. I hear I have a bounty almost equivalent to Lord
James‟ vaults.” Sekei nodded and laughed. He stepped closer to Neva, and then placed a
hand at her hip, sliding her robe back.
        Sekei smiled charmingly and said quietly, “Hmm, sounds enthralling.” Neva
smiled in return. His emerald green eyes peered at her captivatingly. He looked to his
hand and saw her katana in its place on her belt.
        “A katana, eh? May I see it?” he asked. Neva reluctantly gave the man her newly
made longblade.
        He remarked as he examined it, “This is fine quality. Wherever did you find
this?”
        “I made it,” she replied.
        Sekei perked a brow and said, “Nice. Well, I still have to repay my debt to you.
Allow me to enchant this blade, please. It would honor me to do so.”
        She peered at him warily, “Enchant it with what exactly?”
        “Hmm, flame. I do think flame would well suit you,” he replied. She nodded, and
he smiled. Sekei placed the blade in both hands and mumbled something. He placed a
small gem on the blade and there was a white flash. The blade then glowed with a deep



                                                                                         38
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


scarlet light. The luminosity continued even as he handed her the blade back. He placed
the gem in his pocket, and Neva examined her blade.
         “This will impale your foe with the element of fire as you impale them with your
blade,” he said laughing slightly. Then he handed her a small book. In the quickly fading
light, Neva saw that it was something of a spell book.
         Sekei told her, “I‟d also like to give you this. It has all the simple Restoration
spells, and some extras a woman such as your stature would use.”
         “Thank you, Sekei. This is very nice of you,” Neva said. Then, Barbados came
soaring out of the skies like a phantom. He let out a sharp whistle as he swept down to
Neva‟s shoulder. On his leg was a note.
         “What‟s that?” Sekei inquired.
         Neva replied, “It‟s my hawk. Someone gave him to me.” The stars had come out
and Neva decided she should leave.
         She bowed lowly to Sekei and said, “Well, I should go. It was nice to see you. I
bid you well, good sir.”
         “Ah, you too, milady,” Sekei said returning the bow. Neva rushed off the field
and jumped atop Silverwave. She cantered home quickly with Barbados on her shoulder.
She went to her room and opened up the note. Instantly, she recognized Hisao‟s
scrawling penmanship. N. I am planning a small excursion. If you don’t hear from me in
awhile, then the city boys nailed me. DB. She wondered what he was up to but decided
not to write back. She figured it might ruin any stealth he had planned. She threw the note
aside and lay down to get some rest.
         A week after that night, Barbados awoke her with a loud screech. He jumped on
her bed and nipped her ear playfully.
         “Ack! Barbados!” She yelled as she opened her eyes. Neva saw that on his foot a
beautiful rose was tied. She took it off and looked at it. She read the note attached. To
Neva. A rose for a rose. I hope to see you again. Maybe soon you will, who knows? A
faithful admirer. She placed the rose in a glass vase filled with water and then set it by
the window.
         She looked at Barbados and asked him, “Barbados, is there any way you can tell
me who sent me the rose?” The hawk solemnly peered at her with his beady, black eyes.
He let out a whistle and stood with his back to her. Then, he sharply turned his beak left
some degrees. Neva looked out the window to where his beak was pointing. All that was
apparent was the dirt road that led northwest out of Piliad.
         “There‟s nothing out there. Does this person live down that road?” she asked.
Barbados screeched loudly. She took this as a negative reply. She thought about what
pointing his beak towards the road meant. Maybe it’s not the road he was looking at, she
thought.
         She asked, “Does he live northwest of Piliad?” He whistled and quickly jerked his
head up and down once. “Is it someone in Helix?” He hopped excitedly and whistled.
Neva stopped there. Helix possessed around two million people. She couldn‟t fathom as
to whom it would be, but she had an idea at least. She wondered if Seth was still in Helix.
         Her thoughts were interrupted by a fierce knocking on the front door of the house.
Neva opened the door to find a rather handsome man standing at her door. He pushed his
glasses higher on the brim of his nose as a smile flourished on his face. Neva noticed his
nobleman‟s apparel immediately. The man standing at her door was none other than the



                                                                                         39
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


Lord‟s son.
        “Hello Neva,” he said.
        “Greetings Lord Dave,” she replied respectfully.
        He smiled and said, “Please call me Dave. If I may say, you look a lot nicer with
long hair.” Both Dave and Neva laughed.
        “Yes, I feel the same. Please come in,” she replied. Dave walked inside and she
closed the door. He seated himself at the table and looked about briefly before beginning.
        “I have been sent here by my father,” he gave a sigh and continued monotonously,
“in request of Captain Balks to ask if you‟d consider aiding the Liam Elites in their
struggles with South Liam.” He cleared his throat and mumbled, “I hate being so formal
with everything.” Neva laughed slightly.
        She said, “Well, that‟s odd. I thought they wanted to skin me alive…” Her words
were cut off as Barbados came soaring in the room. He landed on the table‟s edge and
whistled loudly.
        “Barbados!”
        “Who‟s your little friend?” Dave asked retaining his laughter slightly.
        “This is my trained buddy. His name‟s Barbados. Someone gave him to me, but I
don‟t know who. I think it‟s someone from Helix,” she said.
        “Hmm,” said Dave, “he‟s a pretty hawk. He must be very intelligent.” Dave
stroked his head lightly. Barbados gave a sharp whistle.
        “Anyway, about the proposition. Why does Balks want me back?” Neva asked.
        “Why wouldn‟t he want you back?” Dave replied. “I mean, your reputation has
surely earned you a good place in the eyes of Fort Derelict. Our new recruits won‟t shut
up about the Swordslinger having trained in Derelict. It‟s had a positive affect on morale
though. They all want to „be‟ the next Swordslinger. I‟d say if you were actually there,
morale would rise even higher, but to return is completely your choice.”
        “I see,” she mumbled. “Is this profitable?”
        “Very,” he said grinning. “I‟ll be leaving tomorrow. Whenever or if ever you
decide to help us, then send your little hawk friend with a message to us. I‟m sure he‟ll
come in quite handy.” Dave stood up and headed for the door.
        Then, he stopped in his tracks and turned, “Um, Neva?”
        She answered, “Yes?”
        “Would you, well, like to spend the day with me?” he asked.
        Neva smiled and replied, “Yeah. One moment.” She hurried to her room and
hastily put her armor on. She left her helm on the bureau and put her robe on as she
headed out.
        “Where to?” she asked.
        He replied, “Well, maybe you could show me the village.” She smiled and
nodded. Neva whistled loudly and Barbados came to her shoulder, but there was no sign
of her horse.
        “Hmm, I think my stallion must be in the village center. He plays with the
children sometimes,” she said.
        Dave looked at her shocked, “He…what?”
        “Plays,” she replied. “You‟ll see.”
        They walked down the dusty path past the sun-bleached homes and shops. Many
people stopped and stared at the two walking by. The sight of Swordslinger and the



                                                                                        40
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


Lord‟s son walking through a village formed an interesting image to the people. Some
whispered and others stared, but both the fighter and the nobleman were used to it all.
They got to the village center to find the stallion running with the children as he always
did.
        “That‟s the craziest horse I‟ve ever seen,” Dave remarked. Neva let out a loud
whistle and Silverwave perked up his tail and trotted over primly.
        “I named him Silverwave,” Neva said. “He‟s a big fellow, but he‟s as nice as
any.” Barbados flew to the top of Silverwave‟s head and nipped his ear. The stallion
nickered and shook his head. The hawk hopped down his back and perched himself on
his withers. Silverwave trotted off as a child ran up with a small stick. Dave laughed
amusedly. Then, Neva showed him other various places in Piliad. Each had a very
enjoyable time.
        As Dave walked with Neva to her home, he smoothly hooked his arm around
hers. When Neva turned to look at him, he gave her an innocent grin. She smiled back
and laughed, pulling his arm closer to her. They walked to her home admiring the last sun
rays setting over the plains before it sunk into the west. Neva and Dave reached her home
as the stars were twinkling overhead.
        Dave looked at Neva and whispered, “I had a really good time today. Maybe
sometime I should show you my home.” They both laughed.
        “Oh yes. I‟m sure I‟d be a welcome guest there,” she replied sarcastically. Dave
smiled and softly kissed her cheek. Neva waved and went inside her home. She stole a
glance outside the window as she watched the receding form of Lord Dave dissipate
down the road into darkness.
        “Where have you been all day?” Jeremy asked.
        She turned around and replied, “Oh, out and about.”
        “With whom?” he inquired. Neva was alarmed by the tone of his voice.
        “Just…myself mainly. I wanted to be by myself,” she said as she headed down the
hall towards her room.
        Jeremy yelled, “I know you were with that Lord‟s son all day, missy.” Neva
stopped where she stood and sighed.
        “Yes, sir. I was with Dave,” she said resignedly.
        “You sure were, and I don‟t like it,” he growled.
        Neva exclaimed, “Jeremy! He‟s the Lord‟s son! What could possibly be wrong
with him?”
        “That‟s just it Neva. He‟s the son of a Lord. You‟re, well, not royalty. You‟re this
Swordslinger villain now. There would be no way to work it out,” he said.
        “I am capable of looking out for myself,” she said exasperatedly.
        Jeremy replied, “I‟m just thinking of what‟s best for you. I just don‟t think it‟s a
good idea. You should forget that guy. There‟re others out there that are more suitable for
you.”
        “Jeremy, you know what?” Neva said. “You‟re not my father, so please don‟t put
yourself in that position and tell me what to do.” She was always a defiant child, but now
she was a defiant woman—with three blades. Jeremy‟s green eyes flashed angrily.
        “You‟re right. I‟m not your father, so get out,” he said.
        Though she had nowhere to go, she merely replied, “Sir, yes sir.” She stormed
down to her room and gathered the few things she had. Then, she walked out the door



                                                                                         41
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


and mounted Silverwave. With Barbados neatly perched on her shoulders, Neva gently
booted him into a gallop and she thundered out of Piliad with hopes to never see it again.
She decided to return to Helix. It was the only place she‟d find a home.
         After a few days of travel, she finally reached the grand city gates. She nervously
rode into the active city. Neva didn‟t want to be seen by any guards. She wanted to slip
into the city unnoticed. As she rode along, she snatched a rope from the window sill of a
home. Luckily her theft was unseen by any passersby. It was broad daylight, and she was
going to sneak into the largest fort in the entire country. Neva knew she was crazy, but
she didn‟t realize she was this crazy. She thought to herself with a twisted grin, Crazy is a
relative term. She chuckled to herself as she snuck towards the large, towering walls of
Fort Derelict. Two guards stood almost directly above her. Neva formed a quick plan and
set it to work immediately.
         She took off one of her leather boots and tied the rope around it. Then, she
whirled it about her head and sent the end of the rope with the boots to the top of the
wall. It hit the man standing atop the wall. He either fell off the wall or was knocked
unconscious because not a sound was heard other than a muffled, bodily thumping sound.
She pulled the rope until it became taut. The boot had become stuck on something. Neva
smiled in her mind and began climbing the wall.
         As Neva prepared to leap atop the wall, the second guard came marching across
the parapet. She had it timed perfectly. When the guard walked by she jumped over the
side of the wall, sending a kick to his face. He fell on top of the other unconscious guard.
Neither guard rose, and Neva stood to put her boot on. She pulled the rope up and hung it
on her belt. She crouched low and snuck about on top of the wall. Fortunately, Neva
remembered where Captain Balks‟ quarters were. She treaded softly around the guards.
         Soon, Neva found herself outside the wooden quarters of the Captain. Below her,
there was a window on the first story of his quarters that were open. She quickly tied the
rope to her small throwing blade. Then, she threw it at the wooden walls of his residence.
She grinned grimly as it became embedded in the wall just above the window. Neva took
a jump off the large fort walls, clinging onto the rope. She went swinging into the open
window.
         Her landing was not half so graceful as her takeoff. Neva lost her footing as she
stepped onto the wooden floor and fell. She skidded across the floor into a large chair. If
it weren‟t for her thick leather greaves, she‟d have broken bones. Well, she thought, there
goes the element of surprise. Neva shook her head and went back to the window. With a
sharp pull to the rope, the blade became loosed from the wall and she caught it. She
placed it in her belt and crept through home.
         She found him sleeping on his desk. There was an open iron flask of brandy lying
sideways beside him. He snored loudly as she walked in. Neva picked up the flask placed
the cap on it. Then, she slammed it on the desk loudly to wake him up. He screamed in
fright. Neva looked at him passively.
         “Oh…” he gasped. “You scared the wits out of me, woman. How did you get in
here?” Neva perked a brow.
         “You left the window open,” she answered.
         He peered at her groggily, “Oh, I left the…what? You came in the window?”
         “Anyway, I came here on account of the proposition Lord Dave offered. I‟d like
to accept,” Neva said.



                                                                                          42
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


        He replied rubbing his eyes, “I see. That‟s good news. You‟re sure of this?”
        “Not like I have anything better to do,” she mumbled as she uncapped his brandy
flask. She took a small swig of it. “Unless you have something wrong with me being in
the army, Captain Balks. As I previously recall you told me…”
        “Yes. I fear I was hasty in my judgments of you, Neva,” he said.
        Neva took another drink of the brandy and said, “I‟d say. What do you want me to
do anyway?”
        He slapped her hand and took his brandy back saying, “Well, I was hoping you
could help me with something along the lines of assassin work. You are, after all, the
Swordslinger. I can imagine this wouldn‟t be too hard for you to accomplish.”
        “It‟d be no problem, sir,” Neva said taking the brandy back. “Just give me the info
and I‟ll skewer „em.” She took a few more gulps of the brandy. “Hmm, good stuff,” she
commented.
        “Alright, for your first job I‟ll give you a local man. This is a guy named Don.
He‟s, uh, one of them catlike things from far off, not a Canute…uh, a Feluxe, I think. The
man is swift, but he‟s none too bright. He sells illegal drugs that he gets from South Liam
and spreads propaganda like nobody‟s business. I‟ll leave it to you how you want to deal
with him. Just bring me back an item of his to prove his death.”
        “I‟ll do this on one favor,” Neva said leaning back in her chair drinking.
        “You‟ll be paid a handsome fee…” Balks said.
        She grinned, “Well, there‟s that, but I want something else. You have to tell your
city boys to lay low. I can‟t be out and about with them blowing my cover and sending
me in the prisons.”
        “Hmm,” he said, “you do have quite a bounty. I‟ll put a word in with Lord James.
I‟m sure he‟ll take care of it for you.”
        “Thank you, sir,” Neva said as she flashed him a smile. Then, she walked out of
the room.
        Just as she had left the room, Balks yelled, “Neva! Get back here!”
        She peeked her head around the door and said, “Yes…?”
        “Give it to me,” he growled. Neva cursed loudly and then took one last swig of
the brandy. Then she threw the empty flask to him.
        “I think this will be the beginning of something great, don‟t you think?” Neva
sneered as she began laughing.
        Captain Balks grumbled as he threw his iron flask to the floor and continued his
work. Neva decided to take a stroll through the fort before getting to her job. She walked
down to the old training grounds and saw new recruits marching about. She decided to
take a look down at the combat training arena.
        When she walked down there she found a young captain and his three trainees.
Two were in the ring with the novice sticks. The captain shouted orders to the young men
in the arena. Neva sauntered down to the combat training. She figured they wouldn‟t
mind a visit from the Swordslinger.
        “Well, well, well. What have we here? Will these young men take over my place
as Liam Villain some day, Captain?” she laughed. The captain turned sharply as the two
young men dropped their sticks in mid-swings.
        “Neva!” the captain shouted. He took off his helmet revealing his young,
handsome face. He was her old friend Seth.



                                                                                        43
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


        “Seth!” she yelled. Neva gave him a big bear hug, just as she used to give.
        He coughed and sputtered, “Yeah, you haven‟t lost any muscle. I can tell you
that!” Neva laughed and released him from her grip.
        “So, you‟re a Captain now?” she asked.
        Seth replied, “Yeah. It‟s an alright job. I get to train recruits like these
knuckleheads all day, and I get a good fee for it. Not too shabby at all, I‟d say. How has
the, um, your profession worked out?”
        “You mean my crime spree?” Neva laughed. “Being the Swordslinger has its
advantages and disadvantages, but it brings in the gold and some unwanted fame. I get
plenty of attention from the city boys though…oh, no offense to you my good Captain.”
        “Sir?” a recruit said to Seth. “Is this the Swordslinger?”
        “That she is. I trained with her over a year ago. I haven‟t seen her since that day at
graduation though.” He turned to Neva and said, “I really missed you. Thomas and I
looked for you all over in the city, hoping nothing bad happened to you. Thomas left to
see if you‟d returned to Piliad and I stayed here. Then, I started hearing things about a
traveling woman who was fighting for gold. I knew this had to be you, so I stopped
worrying at least. I always listened in at the tavern here. They always had news on the
Swordslinger‟s whereabouts and killings. I‟ve been wondering how you were though.”
        Neva smiled and said, “Yeah, I wondered where you two had gone until I met up
with Thomas in Piliad. I…just came from there. I spent a good deal of time there.
Until…well, never mind.”
        “What?” he said.
        Neva sighed, “I can tell you later. I‟m supposed to be doing something right now
anyway. I‟ll check up on you all later, boys. See ya‟ Cap‟n! Hah.”
        She walked out the gates and luckily the guards were all too busy chatting to
notice her. She remembered the Feluxe‟s name, Don. She turned her robe inside out as
she headed down the dark alleyway; she didn‟t want people noticing her right away. She
took her leather helmet off and tied up her hair. She looked somewhat different. Neva
coolly made her way down the dark streets littered with broken glass and other filth. She
found a man walking down the street. From his appearance, she saw he was a short
Vampire. Neva took the shortsword from her belt and grabbed his neck, covering his
mouth.
        “Now, Vampire, tell me where I can find the drug dealer around here. I hear he‟s
a Feluxe. Tell me and I won‟t kill you. Refusal or telling me wrong ends in death,” she
said harshly. Neva pulled her hand off his mouth but kept her blade at his throat.
        “Alright!” his voice was squeaky. “I will show you where to find the Feluxe. Just
don‟t kill me!”
        Through narrow winding streets and alleys, the Vampire led Neva. They reached
a small wooden shack. It was empty except for three chairs and a rug. The Vampire lifted
the rug to reveal a trap door.
        “In there lies the master,” he whispered.
        Neva jabbed him sharply in the back with the handle of her blade and said, “You
first, Vampire.”
        He wheezed nervously and opened the door. Then he descended into the darkness
down the ladder. Neva cautiously followed after him. The room was a cavernous looking
dugout place. There were several bookcases all aglow with candles of various colors,



                                                                                            44
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


each flickering softly. She smelled a rather pungent scent as they went further into the
room. They reached a small, messy living area where the Feluxe laid on a wooden cot
sleeping. Neva signaled for the Vampire to wait where he stood. She placed her
shortsword in her belt. Then she slammed her booted foot down near where the Feluxe
slept. His yellow eyes flickered open calmly and he growled lightly.
        “Why do you wake Dom?” he hissed.
        “Well, my good sir, I have something for you,” Neva said grinning grimly.
        Dom raised a brow, “You have something for the old cat?”
        “Yes, I do,” Neva sneered. Her eyes grew cold and flashed a steely color as she
unsheathed her fiery blade that glowed a deep red color.
        “You have not brought forth a gift for Dom! You wish to kill me!” he yelled.
        Neva grinned and nodded. The Feluxe hissed at Neva. The Vampire turned and
ran, screaming as he left. Neva took a slash for the neck, but he was quick. The Feluxe
ducked under the assaulting blade. He made a strike with his claws at her face. She
parried this slashing at his wrist. The blade sunk into his arm and a red fire lit his hand as
she struck him. She saw how severely it burned him. The Feluxe pulled back his hand
and looked at her in fear.
        While he stood motionless, she drove the katana into his torso. The slim blade
went through his abdomen and protruded through his back. He hissed in a most feline-
like fashion as she pulled the blade out. The fire burned brightly and he fell to the ground.
To ensure his death, Neva snapped his neck with her boot. She took the earring from his
ear and placed it in her pocket as she turned her robe back around. Neva made her way
back through the maze of alleyways back to Derelict. She knocked on the door of Balks‟
home this time, and he came to the door.
         “What do you want?” he grumbled. “I thought you were supposed to be locating
and killing the Feluxe.” Wordlessly, Neva pulled the earring from her pocket and tossed
it on the floor in front of him. He looked down at it with a shocked expression.
        “You‟ve done it already? It‟s hardly…well, good work, Neva. I‟ll get word to
Cervantes and he‟ll order your payment.”
        “I don‟t supposed you‟ve anyplace for a woman to stay, do you? I‟m…homeless
at the moment,” she said.
        He replied, “Ah, yes. Well, it‟s rather crowded you see. You may have to double
up, seeing as we have several doing such now. I sure as hell hope you don‟t get assigned
to double up with me.” He shuddered briefly. “You‟ll have to talk to Father Crowe.”
        She nodded and left. She was happy about seeing Father Crowe again and a bit
surprised he was still alive. Neva made her way up to his quarters just as she did just over
a year ago. She felt she was a completely different person, yet she knew she was still
exactly the same. Neva gave a small knock on the door and entered the room. She found
several students in there as well as Father Crowe standing in front of the room talking.
        He squinted his wrinkled eyes and gave a gasp as he said, “Why, if it‟s not my old
favorite pupil herself.” Neva smiled as she made her way past the chairs.
        She gave the elderly man a hug and said, “Oh, it‟s great to see you again father
Crowe.”
        “Of course child. It is wonderful to see you again. I see you‟re still a skinny little
thing though. Hmm, I‟ve been hearing all about you and your adventures. Anyway, I was
discussing with these pupils about the North in Liam. Would you care to help us in our



                                                                                            45
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


discussion, Neva?” he said smiling.
         “And to think I thought those days were over, hah. Yes, I‟d love to,” she said. He
laughed and she helped him teach the young men about the Northern region of the
country. They, however, seemed to care more about Neva‟s physical features than the
ones of Northern Liam. Neva did her best anyway. Soon the trumpets sounded and the
young men all lingered for a bit before filing out.
         “Anyway, sir, I was going to ask you about the housing situation for Derelict. I‟d
like to get somewhere to stay.” She said.
         “You‟ll be living here in the fort?” he asked.
         “Yes, sir.”
         He smiled, “Well, that‟ll be nice. I can‟t say much for privacy however. Those
recruits are curious little fellows. Reminds me of a young lady I know though.” Neva
laughed at the old man. He was like a grandfather to her. Besides Jeremy, he was the
closest thing she had to a relative.
         “Yes, I am afraid they are quite full,” he told her. “Over full, in fact. There are
people doubling up. I don‟t know if you would want to double up or not. I can‟t say the
man you‟d stay with would mind…but well I bet you would. I‟ll see what I can find for
you my child. Until then, you‟ll have to find something. The local inn is nearby…or if
you‟d be willing to share with someone just for a day…” Neva nodded and left the room.
As she headed out the door, she slammed right into the broad chest of a man. Neva
rubbed her forehead as she grimaced in pain.
         “Neva, there you are,” the man‟s voice said. “Your stepfather told me you had left
Piliad that one evening.” She didn‟t need to look at the man to know it was Lord Dave
himself; she felt the hit was enough.
         Neva said lowly, “Oh, that man. He‟s no stepfather of mine.”
         “Ah, yes. He didn‟t look well when I spoke to him in the morning. Anyway, I
overheard you were in need of a place to stay. I‟d consider it an honor if you were to stay
with us in the royal quarters of Derelict,” Dave said, gazing into her eyes.
         “I‟m thankful for your offer, Dave. I just don‟t know how your family would feel
about, well, someone like me staying there. That‟s for royalty, and I’m the Swordslinger,
a villain.” Neva replied, unable to meet his gaze.
         Dave gave an empathetic smile and said, “I don‟t care in the slightest what my
father may think about you and neither should you. Anyway, I‟m sure he‟d think you‟re
brilliant.” Neva looked doubtfully at him. He took her hands and said, “Please?” No
matter how strong she thought she was, nothing could resist the face he gave her then.
         “Alright,” she said laughing a bit.
         Dave began laughing and said, “I knew that face would get you.” She rolled her
eyes as he tugged her arm. He led her through the fort and into the part she had never
seen before, the royal quarters. As they made their way down the hall, they encountered
the Lord of Liam himself.
         “Father,” Dave said, “you‟ll never guess who‟s aiding us.” He turned around and
smiled at his son. He had a stern face, but it was a nice fatherly looking one when he
smiled. Then, his eyes drifted towards Neva. He stood motionless as his eyes opened
wide.
         “Yomi…? I thought we killed you…” he whispered.
         “Sir?” Neva said inquiringly.



                                                                                          46
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


        Dave looked at his father curiously, “Father, that‟s Neva the Swordslinger. You
told me to reenlist her. She‟s agreed to do so.”
        The Lord shook his head and said, “Yes, of course. I apologize. You look like
someone else. What did you say her last name was?”
        “Neva, well…” Dave looked at her uncertainly.
        She sighed lightly and said, “I‟ll say it. I don‟t have a last name, sir. I don‟t know
my parents.”
        “Oh, I‟m dreadfully sorry. Well, despite your, um, many brushings with the law,
you‟re welcome in my fort and my home, lassie,” he said.
        “Sir, yes sir. I thank you for your hospitality, Lord Cervantes,” Neva said.
        He laughed and said, “I like you, Swordslinger. You can call me Uncle James.”
She smiled and nodded.
        “Well,” Dave said, “I‟m going to find somewhere for her to stay here, father. I‟ll
see you at dinner.” Lord James nodded, and Dave led Neva down further into the richly
furnished hall. They passed several doors and came to one with elaborate tapestries
around it. The door was engraved with something in another language. Dave opened it
and revealed a beautiful room painted in sky blue. There was a bed, drawers, a few
chairs, and a door covered in a silky curtain that led out to a balcony.
        Neva smiled at Dave and said, “This is beautiful.”
        “Yeah,” he said, “I hoped you‟d like it. Anyway, I told you my father wouldn‟t
mind you staying. He seems to like you. Oh, and I‟m sorry he called you Yomi…he‟s,
well, getting on and sometimes gets confused.”
        “Not a problem in the slightest. Who is Yomi?” she asked.
        “You haven‟t heard of Yomi and Nikolai?” Dave inquired. Neva shook her head.
“Well, let‟s sit, and I‟ll tell you all about it.” Dave closed the door and made his way to a
chair. Neva sat down in one to find it very comfortable.
        “Alright,” he began, “there‟s this woman by the name of Yomi Desiree. She lived
in a big family just on the coast by the Harthyung Forest. She was the only female of her
family since her mother had passed on. She had many brothers, about nine. Her father
was a horrid man. He hated women in general, and he especially hated his daughter. Both
her brothers and her father helped to make life miserable for her. The poor woman
endured so much, it turned her heart black. She hated the earth and all those who
inhabited it. Anything in her path, she‟d scorn at. Soon, she got her hands on a blade.
Then, she sought vengeance against those that had made her what she was.”
        “Yomi killed her whole family?” Neva inquired. Dave gave a solemn nod.
        “She did. Then, she left the house and walked for days along the coast before
almost dying. A young man, who was a dark mage of sorts, helped her to his father‟s
cottage. His name was Nikolai Acrolith. His father was a hermit. As Yomi recuperated,
Nikolai and Yomi fell in love. Soon, when she was well, they took off together. Once
they got married, those two became the deadliest pair of killers Liam had ever seen.
Then, Nikolai disappeared about twenty years ago. No one knows where he is to this day,
but Yomi remained about. My father sent guards after her. They found her in the
Harthyung Forest. Some say they killed her but were killed by Lycans. The real story no
one knows. It‟s quite mysterious.”
        “That‟s amazing. I wonder if Nikolai is still alive or even Yomi,” she said. Dave
smiled and shrugged. Neva was interested in Yomi and Nikolai. She wondered if her



                                                                                            47
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


fighting skills would even match Yomi‟s skills. She thought about Nikolai. He lived with
a hermit on the coast, Neva thought to herself. Then, she remembered Hisao had said he
lived with a hermit on the coast. Hisao couldn’t be Nikolai…could he?
        “Nikolai wasn‟t a Canute, was he?” Neva asked. She almost feared the answer.
        Dave thought a moment and said, “No, nope. He was a normal human. Yomi was
a human as well.” Neva sighed in relief. She wondered how Hisao was doing. She figured
he was still on his „excursion.‟
        “Anyway, I‟ll leave you now. You‟re welcome to dinner this evening,” Dave said
as he left the room. Neva nodded and sat on her bed. It had been a long day for her. She
had reached Helix, snuck into the fort, and killed the Feluxe all in one day. Her
exhaustion overwhelmed her, and she fell fast asleep. She awoke the next morning to
someone knocking.
        “Neva?” she heard the voice. Groggily she walked to the door and cracked it
open. She saw Lord James standing on the other side.
        “Sir, what do you ask of me?” she said, regaining her senses.
        “Nothing, nothing. I came to give you the money for the execution of the Feluxe.”
he said holding a sizable bag of coinage. She nodded and took the bag. Then, she shut the
door while he still stood there and fell onto her bed.
        Later that day she received a new quest from Captain Balks to kill another man in
Helix. She worked for a few days doing these missions. It went well for her. Between her
work and time spent with Dave, she began to wonder if her life would finally stabilize.

                          [Her Most Challenging Quest Yet]

        A loud cry broke through the nighttime silence of Fort Derelict as Neva was
sleeping. She bolted from her bed and fled to the source of the outcry. She ran to the
quickly accumulating group of spectators outside the guards‟ quarters. There was a guard
holding them back. Neva shoved her way through the voluminous crowd.
        She asked the guard, “What‟s going on?”
        “Oh it‟s you,” the guard said. “Apparently, one of our captains has been
murdered. It‟s a mess. No one knows what happened, why, or…” Then, he suspiciously
peered at Neva and finished, “…who did it.”
        Neva glared at him and asked, “Who was killed?”
        The man replied grimly, “Captain Henry Balks.” Neva‟s heart fell as she heard
the words. She wanted to avenge his death by any means. Neva felt a burning desire to
kill and maim.
        “Let me have a look around, will you? I might be able to get an idea at who might
have done it,” she said. Without waiting for a response, she walked past the guard and
into the home that was the Captain‟s. She searched his office, but didn‟t find anything too
conspicuous.
        When she walked into his bedroom, she saw the horror. His mangled corpse lay
on the floor just beside his bed. The red words upon the wall clearly stated, “Hide the
Truth.” She didn‟t know what it meant, but she had the feeling something hideous was
hidden within the message. She searched the room for any weapons but found none.
Under the bed, she found Captain Balks‟ journal. When she opened it, she found two
whole pages had been ripped out. The captain, she thought, must have known or seen



                                                                                         48
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


something. She brought the journal down to the guard who was still pushing people away
from the area.
        “Hey, I found his journal. There‟s been two pages ripped out completely. Did you
see what was written on the wall?” she said.
        “What?”
        “It says „Hide the Truth.‟ Now, I figure that Balks possibly knew something that a
certain someone didn‟t want anyone else to know. I don‟t know what though,” she said.
        The guard grumbled, “Funny how you „figure‟ these things.” Neva didn‟t reply
but her cold gaze was enough to make him fall silent and return to his own business. She
spotted Lord James making his way through the masses. Once through, Neva approached
him and explained to him her thoughts.
        “This is serious matter,” he replied after she spoke. “I do not know what Captain
Balks might have known to cause this, and the killer appears to be a dangerous person.
Give me the journal and tomorrow I‟ll see if I have anything for you to do.” Neva handed
him the journal and returned to her room. She bolted the doors and slept with one hand on
her blade. The next morning at breakfast Lord James told her what she needed to do.
        “I have read through the journal,” he said. “I have found nothing about what he
may have seen or done, but there was mention of unpleasant dealings with a Mage. I have
a feeling this may correlate to his death somehow. I‟d like you to locate this man. When
you do, tell me his location. Only kill him on my command. I will send with you three
men from Derelict, but that is all I can possibly afford. I am sorry.”
        Neva nodded, “It is quite fine, sir. I‟ll get started right away. Have the men
saddled and ready to leave by noon. What other information can you tell me about this
man?”
        “He does not have a specified home.” He informed. “He wanders freely and is a
pretty well trained Mage. This man has had awful dealings with Lycans and Canutes. His
name is Sekei Othedius. He was born and spent most of his life here in Helix. He has…”
        She cut him off, “…dark hair, green eyes, a goatee, and wears a black robe.”
        Lord James perked a brow and said, “I see you know of him. This will make your
task easier I am guessing.”
        “Sir, yes sir,” Neva replied as she got up from the table.
        She walked up to her room and found Barbados perched at the edge of her bed.
He had a rose in his mouth and a note tied onto his leg. Neva pulled the rose from his
mouth and took the note. She recognized the fine penmanship as that of the “Faithful
Admirer‟s.” She read the note as she sat on her bed. Dearest Neva. I have been quite
captivated by you and your skill. I’ll always be listening for you. I shan’t reveal myself
now, but I will in good time. Your Faithful Admirer. She smiled and looked at Barbados.
        “Where on earth do you keep getting these things, little fella?” Neva laughed as
she stroked his head. She could see it in his eyes that he knew. She placed the note in her
pocket and gathered her things. She sighed as she placed them in a bag. Here I go again,
she thought to herself. And to think I was going to settle somewhere around here. I was
sure wrong. Neva didn‟t want to leave the beautiful fort, but she had an assignment to do.
As she walked outside, Silverwave trotted behind her. She wondered how he had gotten
into the fort. She figured he was just a smart horse. Neva saw the men she was going to
lead.
        One turned and straightened up, yelling, “Reporting ma‟am! We are almost



                                                                                        49
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


finished packing our horses.”
         “Two things to know, boy. First of all, I‟m not a captain. Hell, I don‟t even know
what my rank is. You probably outrank me, so you don‟t need to address me as „ma‟am‟.
Second, my face is up here. You act like you‟ve never seen a woman before.” Neva
glared noticing the soldier‟s gaze had fallen to her chest. The other two soldiers laughed
at him as he turned red.
         “Anyway,” she said, “I‟m Neva. My horse‟s name is Silverwave, and the little
birdie on his head his Barbados. First tell me your names, and then if you have
questions…go ask someone else. Hah, only joking.”
         A soldier with blue eyes said, “I‟m John. The „Ladies‟ Man‟ there is Jack, and
that guy there is Phil.” Each looked very similar to another because of the armor, but they
were very different from each other. John had blue eyes and flaxen hair that hung in his
eyes. He had a rather muscular build. Jack had black hair and a wide grin. His brown eyes
and smile vaguely reminded her of Thomas. The last soldier was a tall young man with
red hair. He said little, but he appeared to be intelligent.
         Their weapon selection was also quite different. Jack had a standard blade at his
belt and a crossbow slung over his back. Phil had a bow and a quiver full of assorted
arrows. John‟s weapon assortment was impressive. On his back were two katanas, two
shortswords on his belt, and Neva saw a crossbow with his other packing on the horse.
         “I have a question for you, Swordslinger,” Jack said. “How many people have you
killed exactly?” John socked him in the arm and shook his head.
         She grinned sourly as she replied, “I lost count somewhere after twenty-seven.”
They each looked at her in shock.
         “Seriously though? How many?” he asked.
         “Right. It was somewhere after forty,” she said as she mounted her stallion and
Barbados flew to her shoulder. The three exchanged shocked glances. “That‟s enough
questions I think. Let‟s get going. I‟d like to kill the man before he dies of old age.”
         The three men mounted their horses, and they headed out the gate. They
constantly asked her questions as they went. Jack was primarily the one asking questions.
John would always reprimand him for it, but Jack still persisted on his inquisitiveness.
Neva felt that it was going to be a long trip. After numerous death threats of different
styles, Jack finally ended his assault of inquiries on Neva.
         John asked, “Uh, Lady Neva, er, what exactly are we doing? Our captain only told
us that we were going to go on a mission with the Swordslinger.”
         “Well, Captain Balks, who was my captain, was killed recently. You probably
know that. We‟re out to find a Mage by the name of Sekei Othedius. Balks wrote about
unpleasant dealings with this man. We‟re to find him. Then, once we are granted
permission, we will kill him.” The three looked at her somewhat scared.
         “But,” Jack said, “if you‟re the Swordslinger, why do you need us?”
         Neva heaved an exasperated sigh and said, “Jack, I‟m just the Swordslinger. It
pays to have help. I‟m not a goddess, by any means. Cripes…”
         “So what‟ll you have us do though?” he asked.
         She thought a moment and answered, “I‟ll have you stand in the way of the
arrows.”
         “Haha…” Jack mumbled. “With you around, I don‟t think we actually could
help.”



                                                                                        50
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         “Oh trust me. They‟ll be times when I could use more than just my swords. Don‟t
worry about it. You‟ll all help me somehow,” she said. They traveled across the country
for three long days.
         One day, Neva had sent the three to scout different areas. Neva was walking on
foot in a small grouping of trees and shrubbery too thick for even a horse to pass. She
was looking for any sign that Sekei may have rested in the area. Barbados soared about
overhead. Then, in the dead silence, he let out a sharp whistle. Neva turned sharply to see
what he was signaling. Barbados dove into the trees and perched on a branch. He let out a
screech as he turned his head. Neva‟s ears picked up the sound of horse hooves. She
knew it had to be someone. She took cover in some brush as she awaited the arrival.
         “Neva!” a man‟s voice yelled. He stepped into her view just in front of her. He
was clothed in a black robe. The man was none other than Sekei Othedius.
         Neva mumbled to herself inaudibly, “Well, well, well. Today is my lucky day.”
As he passed in front of her she formed a quick plan and remembered to not kill him.
Every fiber of her being wanted to torture this man until he screamed for mercy. She
forced this inner-dwelling hate aside and set her mind to her task. Neva jumped from the
bush and wrapped her arm around his neck. Sekei let out a scream as she clamped her
hand over his mouth.
         “Caught you,” Neva whispered in his ear as he struggled.
         She heard the footsteps of other people coming. She didn‟t know that he was with
anyone. Neva wondered if they knew who he really was. Sekei continued struggling and
a grin formed across Neva‟s face. She was having fun with this little game. A man in a
different robe ran up with another man behind him. She also spotted a young girl.
         “That‟s Neva!” one of the men yelled.
         The other exclaimed, “What?” She wondered who they were. Then, she decided
to drop Sekei so as not to make it seem like an assassin attempt but just a joke. Sekei
looked up at Neva gasping slightly. A bright smile flashed across his face.
         “Ah, Neva! I should have known it was you. Hah, no wonder I couldn‟t pull out
of that grasp.” Sekei exclaimed. The two other men gawked at her wordlessly. She was
used to the uncomforting feeling of stares by now.
         She put on a false smile and said, “It‟s good to see you. I didn‟t expect you to be
out here. What‟s the cause?” she asked. Neva took a good look at the woman they were
with. She looked just hardly younger than herself. She recognized her bright silver hair
and green eyes. She’s the girl I saw outside Jeremy’s shop. What a small world this is,
Neva thought.
         “Bringing her home.” Sekei replied, pointing to the young lady. Neva nodded.
         She bent forward in a deep, graceful bow and said with a warm smile, “Hallo
there. I‟m Neva the Swordslinger.”
         The woman replied, “I‟m Alazondra. It‟s a pleasure.” Alazondra gave a small
bow in return. Before any other words could be exchanged, Neva‟s hawk screeched
loudly from a tree branch above.
         “What?” she exclaimed. The bird nodded its head at her. “Alright, alright.” She
knew the bird wanted to report back to Lord James immediately. That bird is so very
smart. The hawk leapt from the branch and soared off into the pleasantly azure sky.
         “Well, I‟m off. I apologize for leaving in such a rush. Something has come up.
Maybe I‟ll see you another time soon. Farewell and good luck to you!” she shouted over



                                                                                          51
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


her shoulder as she bounded out of the timbered area. Silverwave was grazing outside,
swishing his silky tail. Neva quickly mounted and rode off to find her three companions.
After finding them, she told them of her business.
        “Yes, I found Sekei Othedius. Barbados is on his way back to Helix now. We‟re
going to keep close tabs on them in the meantime. They‟ll be going straight through the
valley I bet. They have at least three Mages, including Sekei, so I‟m sure they‟ll find a
way. I know where the valley ends, but we‟ll have to ride hard. No questions Jack. That‟s
an order, soldier,” Neva said as she directed Silverwave into a speedy canter. They sped
over the plains in the direction of the mountains.
        It took them about four days to finally reach the valleys. Neva led them through
the pass and continued on. They stuck to the coast so they wouldn‟t have to pass through
the forest. Neva didn‟t want to take any chances with young men in her group. She was
fully capable of defending herself, but she didn‟t know about the others. It took them just
under a week to finally reach the edge of the forest.
        She traveled east to see if the Sekei‟s company had been through already. She
reached a small cabin. Neva saw about three other horses standing just inside a cave-like
shelter. She figured they were Sekei‟s horses. Neva and her group made a small camp
behind some rocks. As the night had drawn on, she saw something in the horizon.
        “What the…?” Jack said. Neva‟s sharp eyes veered toward the oncoming horde.
Those are Lycans, she realized.
        She turned to her group and yelled, “Run! Take Barbados. I‟ll make sure Sekei
stays alive.” Jack and Phil nodded and did as ordered, but John refused to move.
        “Ma‟am, I don‟t want to just leave you out here. You said there were times you
could use more than two blades,” John said firmly. His blue eyes searched hers.
        “Alright. Just don‟t get hurt, John. I‟ll do my best to look out for you—”
        John said abruptly, “—Oh, I think it will be I looking out for you. I may not be as
good with a blade as the Swordslinger, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve.” Neva
smiled and booted her stallion‟s sides. Silverwave perked his ears straight forward and
began running to his fullest.
        Neva shouted over her shoulder, “We‟ll jump in from the back.”
        She gripped Silverwave‟s long mane as he thundered around to the rear of the
battling. Then, Neva kneed his left side, and he quickly spun to the right. He charged
towards a large boulder. She saw an elderly man and a young woman standing behind it.
Neva was a bit nervous about her stallion‟s jumping abilities. All her worries vanished as
she felt the excitement when he launched himself over their heads and the boulder. Neva
stood upon his back as his front legs touched ground, drawing her blades. With two
swings, three Lycans were terminated. Neva jumped off his back and joined the Mages.
        Sekei yelled out to her, “Neva!” She grinned and looked back to see John riding
up just after her. He jumped off his horse and joined her side.
        “That horse of yours is crazy,” he muttered as he drew two of his own blades.
Neva laughed and began slaughtering Lycans at will.
        A sharp whistle from Barbados sounded through the battle. Neva looked up at him
curiously. He swept off into the sky and disappeared into the darkness. Then, she saw her
horse‟s eyes turn hellishly red. He nickered viciously and reared up. Silverwave charged
forward into the mass of Lycans and began tearing at them with his teeth. He used his
hooves to crush the Lycans under him.



                                                                                        52
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


        Neva realized why she had gotten him for free from that man so long ago in
Helix. He, thought she in amazement, is a demon horse. She smiled as she thrust her
blade into the heart of a Lycan. She turned to looked at John only to find he had amassed
quite a few kills. Neva‟s hate for Delta Lycans was a pure one. She felt they were some
of the foulest creatures to ever curse the world with their existences.
        Then, a Lycan yelled, “Tonight will be the night for you Rolath! Our Lord returns
to us to rule us for years to come! THE GLORY IS THIS NIGHT!”
        Neva let out a gasp and almost dropped her blade as she heard the words. Rolath,
she thought. This is some serious business. She wondered if the girl possibly had
something to do with it. She saw Sekei and another Mage of his leave the battle. They ran
behind the rock where the girl was. Neva remained fighting beside the Mage on her left.
To her right stood John still fighting proudly. Her horse was valiantly fighting as well.
        There was one remaining and Neva said, “I‟ll get him.” The last Lycan stood
before her and looked her darkly in the eyes. She strode forward firmly grasping her
blades that dripped sickly in crimson. The Lycan crouched low to the ground. With a
lightening fast movement, he struck Neva‟s face with his claw. He snarled savagely at her
as she wiped the bleeding wound. Then, he took a vicious swipe for her legs. She leapt
backwards dodging incoming the blow.
        As she recovered her balance, the Lycan jumped at her. He dug his claws into her
abdomen fiercely. She grunted as he withdrew his razor-sharp nails. The world grew dim
for Neva as she felt her own blood escaping the gashes in her abdomen, leaving a cold
feeling in her body.
        “No!” John yelled. He took one of his blades in both hands and charged forward.
He beheaded the vicious beast in one swing. The dark, hot crimson fluid sprayed across
Neva‟s face, and then she finally passed out.
        When she finally awoke, her stomach burned with a deep pain. Her eyes fluttered
open revealing a world new to her. She was inside a small cabin-looking home. Above
her stood John, two strange Mages, and an elderly man.
        Neva felt a hand on her cheek as one spoke, “She‟s conscious, you guys. Thank
the Gods and the Saints.” She heard footsteps approach the bedside.
        “I would if I was the religious type,” a voice said. Neva turned her head in the
direction of the voice to find Hisao standing behind a Mage.
        Hisao leaned close to her and said, “Hey. How are you feeling?”
        “Could be better,” she mumbled feebly.
        “Hmm, I do think the lass will be fine. We‟ll have to work on those wounds
though. If they get infected that‟d be the end of her,” she heard the elder Mage say. He
looked very frail and had white hair.
        “Wow, in all my days I never thought I‟d be assisting someone of her stature,”
one of the Mages said. “Drink this,” he said as a bottle was put to her lips. She pulled her
head away as she caught scent of it.
        She said, “That‟s a draught elixir!”
        Hisao said, “I told you to give it to her while she was sleeping. She‟s so
stubborn.”
        Neva would have said something if she wasn‟t in such a state. She felt the cool
liquid stream into her mouth and she reluctantly swallowed it. She was soon sleeping
unconsciously.



                                                                                         53
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


        When she awoke once more, the room was silent. She didn‟t hear the sound of
men talking or walking on the wooden floor. The burning pain that once flooded her was
gone and she could stand. Neva walked through the small cabin. She found her armor and
clothes in a pile by the door. They were ripped and black with dried blood, some of it
Lycan blood and some of it her own. She had new clothes on. They were male clothes,
but Neva couldn‟t say that she wasn‟t used to it.
        As she lifted her shirt to peer at her wounds, she saw deep, semi-faded scars
running across her abdomen. She had been injured before, but none of her injuries were
as bad as this. The other scars she had looked like miniscule scratches compared to the
claw impairments across her stomach. The door opened and the old man walked in.
        “Why, you‟re up, my good lady. What is your name? I‟m sure the fellows told
me, but alas, I do forget,” he said.
        Neva replied, “My name is Neva. Who are you, sir?”
        “I am Oribeth,” he said. “I‟m simply an old wizard living out by himself. I used to
teach magicks of all kinds. Those days are over though. Two of my students are here
actually, Fritchel and Razule.”
        “Where are they?” she asked. Oribeth pointed outside where they all stood. Hisao,
the two mages, and John all talked together. She nodded and headed out the door.
        “Hey Neva,” all four mumbled in unison.
        She smiled and greeted, “Hello. I want to thank you guys for helping me. I‟m
sorry I don‟t know your two names though my good sirs.” Neva turned to the two Mages.
        The one in the crimson robe said, “I am Fritchel Gamion, Mage.” He took her
hand and bowed lowly before it. Neva saw on his hand was a silver ring. She could tell it
wasn‟t a normal one. The inscribing on the ring told her exactly the ring‟s purpose, to
keep him in his human state. He was a Lycan and was trying to hide it. Shifty character,
Neva thought.
        “Mage, eh? I didn‟t know they had Lycan-Mages now,” she said looking at
Fritchel slyly. He blushed lightly and withdrew his hand.
        “Well, I…” he mumbled vainly.
        She smiled and said, “It‟s alright. My friend‟s a Canute here and I haven‟t a
problem in the world with him, besides the fact he‟s as stubborn as a mule sometimes.”
        Hisao crossed his arms and said, “I swear you‟re more stubborn than I am,
missy.”
        “Of course, Dog-boy,” Neva mumbled. “Now, what is this other man‟s name
here?” she asked turning to the other mage.
        He smiled and said, “I‟m Razule Falks. I really am a simple Mage.” Neva looked
at him searchingly and decided that he truly was a simple Mage.
        “Yes, I see that. Alright, now for business. John, do you know where Phil and
Jack are at all?” she asked.
        John replied, “Yes ma‟am. They fled to the north coast. I sent Barbados with a
message telling them to return here. They will be here later in the day I do believe, unless
Jack is doing the navigating.”
        She laughed and said, “Let‟s hope not, for Phil‟s sake. Well, we‟ll need to find
Sekei Othedius somewhere. I‟m betting he‟s in Witherfroth with that young woman,
Alazondra, I believe her name was.” Nods came from both the mages.
        Hisao asked, “You‟re looking for Sekei too?”



                                                                                          54
Swordslinger                                                                       A.A. Yeargin


         “Yep. It appears the man sure has made a nuisance of himself with you as well.
Anyway, about that girl…” Neva said.
         “Yes, we‟ll be taking her home,” the Mage named Razule answered. The one
named Fritchel remained silent. Neva peered at him.
         She said, “And that is what you are doing, right Fritchel?” His blue eyes said it
all. She knew he was caught between a rock and a hard place. Razule turned and looked
expectantly at Fritchel. The Mage still said nothing.
         “That is what we‟re doing,” Razule put in.
         Neva said, “So Fritchel, that‟s certainly not a Lycan name if I may say, did Sekei
put you up to whatever you‟re not telling me? I bet Razule here doesn‟t know.”
         Fritchel heaved a deep sigh and said, “Damn you‟re good. Sekei didn‟t have
actually bringing Alazondra home in mind. He wanted to kill her for her blood.” Razule
looked at Fritchel in horror and plain disbelief.
         “Well, how disgusting,” Neva remarked.
         “Yes it is,” Fritchel said. “I tried talking him out of it, but I fear for Alazondra‟s
safety now. I wonder if…I could maybe get your help.”
         “Sir, yes sir,” Neva exclaimed happily.
         Fritchel laughed and said, “Alright, all I really need is for you to keep close tabs
on Sekei, and…” Fritchel slightly blushed, “…make sure Alazondra stays safe and alive.”
         Neva bowed lowly and replied, “I will do as asked, sir. John, when Jack and Phil
arrive, tell them I‟m in Witherfroth. You three stay here until I return. Now, you two
Mages, where will you be?”
         Fritchel said, “We‟ll head to Witherfroth with you to make plans. I have a friend‟s
house in mind that we can visit. I‟m sure Razule may have some family he can stay
with.” Razule nodded at this.
         “Alright. We should go then, while there‟s still light in the day,” Neva said. She
whistled for her hawk and stallion to come. Silverwave came trotting over to her. The
hawk came sweeping out of the skies and perched himself on her shoulder as she
mounted Silverwave.
         Hisao said, “I‟m coming as well.”
         Neva nodded as the Canute mounted Prince. She felt a smile form on her face to
see Hisao atop the cute donkey. Then, they hastily made their way to the city of
Witherfroth. It was about afternoon as they reached the large city. They came to the
wooden gates to find that they were broken. There was a hole in the middle of it. The city
guards were busy repairing it. Neva noticed the ice looked more disturbed than should be.
She grew a little curious but remained silent as the entered the city.
         Neva felt somewhat thankful she did not have her robe after all. The guards would
have recognized it immediately. She wished that she had something to cover up her
weaponry. She knew it wasn‟t good to let a foe know what weaponry she possessed, but
Neva didn‟t have much choice.
         “Alright, you two Mages, where would Sekei be?” Neva said facing them.
         Fritchel replied, “I know where he would be. He has no other family or friends in
this place. Sekei would be staying in the temporary housing in the fort.”
         Neva cussed aloud and said, “What a rat. He knows the temporary housing is
infested with guards. No one can get to him there. I can make an attempt to retrieve
Alazondra without putting her in harm‟s way, disposing of the Mage, and getting the



                                                                                            55
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


woman to you. I don‟t have the permission to kill the man.”
        “What do you mean „permission‟?” Razule inquired, his eyebrow arched
inquisitively.
        “I‟m under strict directions from Lord James,” she answered.
        Razule said with a nod, “Ah, I see.”
        Neva then ordered, “Now, Hisao and you Mages, just find somewhere to basically
hideout. No need to tell me where. I‟ll find you when I need to.” They all nodded and
moved out into the bustling crowd.
        Neva was on her own, which she enjoyed. She often preformed better
independently. She wanted more than anything to get the young woman out of the
Mage‟s clutches as soon as she could. She planned how she would attempt to enter
Sekei‟s room. Neva would have to find out exactly where it was once she reached the
temporary housing area. Then, she‟d have to hope Alazondra was there. She didn‟t want
to have to search for her, for she couldn‟t recall what she looked like, other than her
green eyes and silvery hair.
        As soon as the night was cast upon Witherfroth, Neva set her plan into action. She
bundled her belt with her two longswords together and packed them onto Silverwave.
Neva sent him off to await her return. She kept her shortblade hidden in her boot. Neva
walked into the fort and watched for any passing guards. As soon as it was clear, she
made her way up the many flights of stairs. She was constantly vigilant as she stealthily
went through the fort.
        Then, behind her, she heard the yelling of a guard, “Hey! What are you doing in
here?”
        “I was making my way up to my friend‟s room in the temporary housing. It‟s for
a rather urgent cause, my good sir,” Neva said innocently. Her acting skills had been
perfected over time, and she could lie without any slight detection. Unfortunately, the
guard had recognized her for who she really was.
        The guard chuckled coldly, “Don‟t try that, Swordslinger. I‟ve got you. Oh yes. I
just can‟t wait until I reap your bounty.”
        “Oh really?” Neva said.
        She pulled the blade from her boot. Neva had no honest clue as to how she‟d
defeat the man with a shortblade. He placed his longsword at her throat and looked her
square in the eyes. Then, she pulled the trickiest stunt she had only successfully done
once before. Neva kicked the man‟s hand which wielded the blade. It soared behind her,
becoming embedded in the wooden floor. She grasped it by the handle and swung herself
around it as if it were a pole. Her boot met the man squarely in the jaw as he charged
forward.
        The guard staggered backwards momentarily before Neva pulled the blade out of
the floorboards. She forcefully swung the blade and slew the guard. His lifeless body hit
the ground as crimson seepage oozed from his neck. As she turned to continue on her
way six men with crossbows locked stopped her. She knew retreating would lead to sure
death. Neva had to admit she was caught.
        “Neva, uh, whatever-your-last-name-is you are a notorious criminal, and for this
we will escort you to the prison cells. You will…” The guard speaking was cut off.
        “I will be there until further notice. Any attempt to escape or breaking any of
Liam codes will directly result in a longer sentencing,” Neva stated from memory. “You



                                                                                        56
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


people really need to shorten that up.”
        An ugly guard smiled viciously and grabbed her arm as he said, “I‟ll take her to
the cells. You fellows alert the Captain. We‟ll be swimming in her bounty! Haha!”
        He tugged her arm forcefully as he led her down into the depths of the fort. He
plucked a torch off the wall and led her into the dark passageways. They reached the
prison and passed through many cells with men inside them. They stared at her curiously.
Some yelled vulgar things at her, but Neva stood tall and looked forward. She let it all
pass aside. Then, the guard led her to a heavily locked door. He opened the locks on the
door and shoved her in the room. There was a single cell in the room. A young woman
with flaxen hair sat inside the cell. The door shut behind her and the guard tugged her to
the cell door.
        “Come on, in you go. Damn, two women in top security now. What‟s gotten into
them?” The guard mumbled.
        “Men have,” Neva said smirking.
        The guard used the handle on the torch to beat upside the head. Neva took the hit
without flinching. She kept on a vicious grin as he shoved her in the cell and locked it.
Then, he walked out the heavy door, locking it too. Neva let out a small sigh. Damn, she
thought, they got me.
        “Hello, what‟s your name?” she said turning to woman in her cell.
        “I‟m Alazondra,” she replied.
        “Oh, yes. I remember,” Neva said. “You were looking for your home, eh? I don‟t
suppose you‟ve found it though. Hmm.”
        Alazondra merely shook her head in reply. She turned up the lantern some to
provide light. Neva was so glad she had found the young woman the two Mages were
looking for. She didn‟t speak of anything they had discussed for she didn‟t know if
Alazondra knew of Sekei‟s plot.
        “So, why are you here?” Alazondra asked.
        Neva gave a laugh and answered, “Just being me. I‟ve a bounty worth more than
Cervantes‟ vaults, but they can never keep me in jail long enough to claim the bounty. It
will be a cold day in Hell when they put the Swordslinger behind bars for good.”
Alazondra nodded and smiled. Neva asked, “Anyway, who‟d you kill to end up like me?”
        Alazondra replied, “Eight guards.”
        Neva gave a whistle, “Yeah, that‟ll do it.” Alazondra laughed as she said that.
        Neva began pacing the cell and inspecting it thoroughly. She pulled at bars and
pushed stones in the wall. Nothing budged. This place is solid, she thought. Silently she
cursed.
        “Hmm. No loose stones, no windows…” she stated. Her eyes drifted to the
shackles on Alazondra‟s legs. “Oh my…”
        Neva knew those shackles meant she was a Lycan. The inscribing on the sides
was like the one on the Mage‟s ring. Neva remembered an unlocking spell from the book
Sekei had given her. Neva‟s sharp mind instantly formed a plan.
        “What?” Alazondra asked.
        “You‟re a Lycan. I didn‟t know that. Come here.” Her voice dropped to a
whisper, “Okay, listen well. If I get these shackles off you‟ll change into a Lycan; it‟s
night right now. Do you think you‟d be strong enough to break these bars?” Neva asked.
        Alazondra replied, “I might. I mean I broke through the front gate…so probably,



                                                                                        57
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


yeah.”
         “So that‟s who did that. Good work. Keep the guards working,” Neva laughed.
“Now, I know when you break it, the noise will make a guard run over. I‟ll need you to
kill him. If you‟ve killed eight, I think you can kill one. Hah. Then, I‟ll take his armor
and get you in your shackles. Then I‟ll be able to get you out without any question.”
         “Where will I go? Do you know where Sekei is? Can you take me to him when
we get out?”
         “You want to go see Sekei?” Neva inquired slowly. Alazondra gave a nod.
“Okay…I can…do that…if you want.”
         “Yes, that‟d be great. Thanks.”
         “Now,” said she, “let‟s get out of here.”
         Neva bent down and inspected the shackles. She grabbed them in her hands and
mumbled the spell quickly. A blue light glowed around the shackles, and they fell from
Alazondra‟s legs. Neva smiled to herself. It actually worked, she thought. Alazondra fell
to the ground, appearing unconscious. Neva watched her body shift into a large white
Lycan. Black markings decorated the hair on her head, legs, and tail. Neva felt herself in
a state of awe at seeing the beautiful creature before her.
         “Wow,” Neva whispered. “Anyway, go ahead.”
         She backed up against the back wall of the cell. Alazondra took a pounce at the
door of the cell and the entire room shook. Neva nodded for her to keep trying. Alazondra
stuck her head through the bars and bit at the handle. It snapped off, and the door swung
open. She’s really strong, Neva thought. That could be quite useful.
         “Good work. Now, I know one guard who‟ll be coming. I‟ll stand back here,” she
said quickly.
         Alazondra nodded and crouched low before the door, patiently awaiting the
entrance of a guard. As planned, a single guard came bursting through the door. Neva
watched as the Lycan lunged at the man and snapped his neck in her jaws. Once again,
Neva was almost lost for words.
         “Alright. Now, I‟ll put your shackles on you, and then I‟ll put on the armor.”
Neva said.
         She placed the shackles around Alazondra‟s legs and instantly a green beam of
light flashed through the room. Alazondra returned to her normal self. Neva put all the
armor on piece by piece. Then, she dragged the body into the cell and turned it to appear
like a sleeping body. Neva locked the door and turned to Alazondra.
         “Well, that worked nicely. Let‟s go quickly,” she said.
         Alazondra nodded and followed, hanging her head to give the outward appearance
of being taken somewhere by force. They walked together down the long hallway. The
only sound made was the clunking of the armor. Soon two guards came running up.
         “What was that down there?” one yelled.
         “The prisoners,” Neva grumbled in her „Chris‟ voice, “were fighting like
barbarians. This one wanted to rip the other apart. I‟m taking her elsewhere.”
         The two nodded and walked off. Neva thanked the darkness that hid her face,
since the helmet was not a full one. She didn‟t know where to go once she reached the
end of the prison corridors. There’s no way they’ll let me leave the fort with her, she
thought, much less go across the city.
         She figured her only choice was to leave the girl with Sekei but not for long. Neva



                                                                                         58
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


would find Fritchel then tell him where Alazondra was and leave it to him. Alazondra
seemed to want to be with him as well. This quest had become a long and involved one.
She had the feeling that even if Sekei dropped dead that night she‟d still have more to do
with this mission.
         They passed through hallway after hallway. Then there were long stairways. They
winded and twisted upwards continuously. Neva led them up, still keeping the outlook of
prisoner and guard. Once in the temporary housing quarters, she looked for any sign of
the mage. Neva saw light beaming through a crack under one of the doors. She hoped that
this was the Mage‟s room. Neva gave three shorts knocks and opened the door. Sekei was
in it sure enough. Quickly, she closed it behind them and faced the Mage.
         Sitting at a desk in the corner he turned and raised a brow, “Guard…?”
         “Mage…?” Neva replied taking off her helmet.
         Sekei smiled widely, “Oh it‟s only you Neva. Who‟s that…?” Alazondra stepped
out from behind Neva and smiled at him. “Alazondra!” Sekei jumped up from his chair
and hugged Alazondra. “Where‟ve you been at?”
         “Well, I don‟t think you really want to know…” she said.
         Neva looked at her smiling, “I‟ve been in prison plenty of times myself. It‟s
nothing to be ashamed of really.”
         Sekei looked up at Neva, “Prison?”
         “Aye. She‟s had a brush with the city boys. Nothing big,” Neva said with a
dismissive shrug.
         “Neva, everything is „nothing big‟ for you,” Sekei replied. They both laughed.
“What happened though? How‟d she get there?” His gaze fell on Alazondra.
         “Um. Killing…eight…” Alazondra said quietly.
         He looked at her curiously and asked, “Eight what?”
         “Guards…” she replied.
         “Yikes. Well, you two will have to lay low for awhile,” Sekei stated. Neva knew
what the Mage wanted. She knew he wanted her to stay with him for some time. She was
much smarter than that.
         “Pfft, I never lay low, always gung-ho!” she replied.
         “Well,” he said, “Lady Gung-ho, you have to. This place is crawling with guards
during the day. It‟ll look odd if you‟re dressed as a guard and you just walk out the
gates.”
         “Hmm, yes. Then I won‟t walk out the gates. There‟s plenty of other ways to get
out of the city,” Neva replied, her eyes distantly focused out the window.
         “And then what? You walk all the way to wherever?” he inquired.
         Neva said, “You underestimate the intelligence of my horse, Sekei. Hah. Why, by
tomorrow night I‟ll be on my way...out of here.”
         He gave a sigh in resignation, “Where though?” Neva was about to answer when
she heard the faint sound of breathing outside the door. Someone is there listening, she
thought.
         Neva said, “The walls have ears, and the doors have eyes, my friend.” Then, she
sent a kick to the door knocking it open and sent the man on the other side sprawling on
to the floor. She smirked and muttered, “I knew it. I have to get out of here tonight. I‟m
sorry, Sekei. All I can tell you is that it‟s…important business.”
         With that, she fled the room. Neva hoped the man wasn‟t conscious as she ran



                                                                                       59
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


down the steps. Luckily the night had grown on and the guards had moved on. She made
her way out of the fort. Neva whistled and Silverwave, with Barbados perched on his
withers, came trotting out. She jumped atop his back and galloped out of the city in the
midst of the chilly night. As soon as she was far from the Witherfroth she wrote a quick
note to the Mage named Fritchel. Alazondra is unharmed, but I had to leave her with
Sekei. I advise you to take her from him in the morning. N.
        As the hawk flew into the distance, Neva rode towards Oribeth‟s cabin. The moon
caused the white ice to glow eerily. The large boulders cast long shadows upon the
ground. Neva silently made her way across the barren ice fields. Soon the small cabin
became visible in the dim light. She saw yellow light shining through the small windows.
Neva couldn‟t help but smile as she dismounted Silverwave and knocked upon the door.
The creaked open and the old man stood smiling.
        “Ah, the young woman. It is a pleasure to see you again. Come in, please,” he
said waving her in. She thought of him as such a hospitable, nice old man.
        She replied, “Thank you, sir. Are John and the others here currently?” He gave
her a nod as he pointed to the three men sleeping in front of the fire.
        “Feel free to spend time here if you wish. I shall retire to my room now. Knock if
you need anything at all.”
        The old man turned and headed down into a trap door in the floor. Neva seated
herself in a chair and gazed into the fire. Her thoughts kept her mind from drifting to
sleep. She wondered how she could kill Sekei and what would happen to Alazondra. The
thoughts grew on and on in her mind.
        John broke her chain of thought as he said, “Neva, you‟re here.”
        “Hmm, yes. I arrived not too long ago. How are you three doing?” Neva asked.
        “Well,” he said, “Jack‟s driving me nuts, but we‟re all fine.” Neva laughed some.
“I‟m just glad you‟re alright. Is the Mage dead?”
        “Unfortunately he is not,” Neva said with a sigh. “This quest is becoming more
and more involved. There is a young woman by the name of Alazondra; she‟s a Lycan.
The Mage we‟re after has plans to kill her. I had to leave her with him though. I‟m just
hoping the other Mages get her in time.”
        John peered at her blankly and uttered, “That sounds…complicated.” They both
laughed and Neva nodded. “I sure hope it all gets cleared up though, and don‟t forget I‟m
willing to help in any way possible.” Neva smiled at John. He’s such a nice soldier, she
thought.
        “I think what we have to do now is get back to Helix. I‟ll need to speak with Lord
James directly about the things I know. I wonder if he has gathered anymore information
on Captain Balks‟ murder. I will take you three to Witherfroth in the morning, and we
will sail to Port Skymack. Then, we will ride to Helix hastily. I‟d like to end this
overdrawn quest as soon as I can.”
        “You look tired, ma‟am. Why not take my place over by the fire?” he said.
        She smiled and said, “Thank you. That‟s rather nice of you.”
        John nodded and seated himself in a chair. Neva lay down by the fire on a downy
bearskin. She was soon drawn into sleep. The next morning Jack abruptly awoke her
from her restful slumber.
        Jack said, “Hey! It‟s you. When did you get here?”
        “Last night,” she muttered groggily. She saw John kick Jack from behind.



                                                                                        60
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         “You are so inconsiderate. She was sleeping so beautiful—er, peacefully, and you
disturbed her,” John said. Jack merely rolled his eyes and peered at Neva.
         Neva nodded and said, “Yeah, I get cranky when I‟m woken up.”
         “What are we going to do now that you‟re back?” Jack asked.
         “After I kick your ass for waking me up, we‟re going to head back to Helix. I‟ve
some things to do. Then, you three might be assigned to other things.” Frowns passed
between John, Jack, and Phil.
         “Aw,” said John, “it‟s fun being out here with you.”
         Neva shrugged and rose to her feet. She peered and saw her robe was still lying
where it was. The dried blood had blackened the ripped shreds of cloth. She found that
her leather armor had been repaired. She wondered by whom but didn‟t ask. Neva smiled
and put the armor on as she headed out the door. The three men followed as she mounted
Silverwave. They each packed their horses and mounted. Neva heaved a small sigh as she
left the old man‟s quaint cabin behind.
         She led them to Witherfroth. Her heart somewhat sank as she spotted the large
walls. Neva wanted to be anywhere but Witherfroth for some reason. Maybe it was
because of the situation. Carefully, she led her small group through the city so as not to
attract a guards‟ attention. A group of men stood at the docks. She jumped off her horse
and approached them. The three behind her dismounted and watched her.
         “Hello, good sirs. I‟m looking for a ride to Port Skymack,” she said smiling. Of
the four men, two looked up. One of the men‟s eyes grew largely.
         He gasped, “My word…you‟re the…”
         John immediately rushed up, placing a hand on Neva‟s shoulder, “…nicest
looking lady you‟ve seen? I know she is. Would any of you please just sail us over to
Skymack?”
         The one man said, “I don‟t know if I want that villain on my ship.”
         Neva peered about and said innocently, “Villain? What villain?”
         “Don‟t play dumb. I‟ll give you a lift. I‟m not afraid of you or the law,” a second
man said.
         Neva thanked him and the sailor led them to his ship. They stowed the horses and
sailed off. After two days of fast sailing, they reached Port Skymack. Neva paid the man
well as she led Silverwave off the ship. John, Jack, and Phil obediently followed her.
Soon, they were riding south towards Helix. Neva felt a sense of homecoming as she
boldly strode through the large city gate with Barbados on her shoulder. She felt the
happiest when she saw Fort Derelict lying at the center of the city. Neva rode straight
through the fort and to the royal quarters.
         “Alright,” she said, “you three will have to go report to your captain. Tell them
that your quest is done with me and that you served me well, which you have. I thank you
three for your loyalty to me. Maybe I shall see you another time. Goodbye.”
         Neva walked into the royal quarters and down the hall towards the room that she
had once stayed in. She saw that the door was open. Neva peered in and saw someone
standing on the balcony. She walked through the room and leaned in doorway to find
Dave. Neva felt so happy to see him again.
         “How are you this evening, Lord Dave?” Neva asked smiling brightly. He turned
and looked at Neva in shock. He smiled happily and ran up to her.
         He said hugging her tightly, “Well, I‟m awfully glad to see you.” Neva looked up



                                                                                          61
Swordslinger                                                                       A.A. Yeargin


into his soft brown eyes.
         “I really missed you,” he whispered into Neva‟s ear. Dave‟s eyes gazed into
Neva‟s grey ones as he gently stroked her back.
         She blushed lightly and said, “Yeah, I missed you as well.”
         “I bet you‟ll want to speak with my father,” he said. Neva nodded and he walked
inside for a moment before returning with his father behind him.
         “Ah. You‟ve returned. Please tell me of your findings,” Lord James said as he
came onto the balcony.
         Neva seated herself on the balustrade and said, “Well, it was a rather long trip. It‟s
still not quite over.” Lord James perked a brow. “You see…” Neva related to him all of
the details of the trip. Her story became a long and complicated one, but she told it.
         When she finished, he stroked his chin and said, “That‟s quite interesting. I trust
your wise judgments, Neva. You‟re a sensible woman. I feel I would have done the exact
same things as you did in these said situations. The job, however, was not accomplished.
You did not kill Sekei. I cannot reward you for a job not done.”
         “Sir, I…there…” Neva was completely lost for words. Her disappointment was
great and heavy upon her.
         Dave spoke up, “Father, that is totally unjust. This young woman traveled the
entire country, located and followed the man, and saved a young girl.”
         Immediately, Lord James‟ expression grew dark, “You say she „saved a young
girl?‟ She helped a Lycan! Who knows where Neva‟s loyalty lies with? In fact, I think I
was a fool to think I could trust this, this rogue…this delinquent!”
         As the words hit her, Neva felt her lower jaw quiver. She sniffed quietly and
forced herself not to cry. The horrible words hurt her, but she was more afraid of letting
them see her bleed because of them.
         “Father!” Dave yelled.
         Lord James scowled, “No son. Do not silence me. This woman knows the truth.
She cannot be trusted. I should have had her sent to the prisons as soon as she entered my
home that day.” Neva wasn‟t going to take that anymore.
         Her glare became as cold as ice, “Cervantes, you‟re a fool. I‟ll see you in hell.”
         She turned and jumped over the balcony railing. Neva landed on the first story
awnings then jumped to the ground and began sprinting. She whistled loudly, and her
horse immediately came cantering over towards her. She jumped onto his back as he
passed by. Then, being led by four guards, she saw a familiar face. It was Hisao being
taken into prison.
         She quickly jumped off her horse and said, “Dog-boy…what‟s going on?”
         He lowered his eyes to the ground and replied, “City boys nailed me. I killed
Sekei though. I‟m glad I nailed the bastard.”
         “Enough prisoner!” a guard yelled.
         Neva whispered in his ear before leaving, “I‟ll get you out of here as soon as I get
more help. I promise.”
         Hisao gave a slight nod as they led him off. Her horse walked alongside her as she
made her way to the Helix Lake. She sat in the spot she had over three years ago during
her fight with Thomas. Nothing seemed to be different. The moon glowed with a dim
luminescence as it did that night. In the water, she saw Dave ride up on a grey Clydesdale
horse. She turned around as he dismounted. The moonlit ambience caused him to look



                                                                                            62
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


like a white knight in Neva‟s eyes. She smiled as he approached her.
         “Neva, I‟m sorry for what my father said to you back there,” he said quietly. “He
has this thing about hating Lycans for some reason. It‟s not you he‟s mad about. It‟s just
the Lycans. Are you mad at me at all?”
         “No, of course not,” Neva replied. Dave seated himself next to her and placed and
arm around her shoulders. She laid her head on his shoulder and he gently kissed her
forehead. Neva smiled up at him as he grinned back at her.
         Dave whispered into her ear, “Want to know something?” Neva glanced at him
curiously and nodded.
         “Yeah,” she answered.
         “Well,” Dave said, “I…” He seemed to be lost for what to say. Then he said,
“…don‟t think that…you‟re a villain.”
         Neva cooed softly, “Well, thank you.” Dave smiled and nodded. She gazed into
his soft brown eyes. Then, drawn in by the moment, the two kissed in the pale moonlight.
They both pulled away looking into each other‟s eyes. Lord Dave held Neva closely in
his arms.
         A voice called out, “David Cervantes! Get away from her!”
         “Oh no. My father…” he groaned. Neva looked up to see Lord James standing
with a dozen men behind him.
         “Swordslinger, you had better get away from my son,” he said brandishing a
large, steel crossbow with a bolt poised.
         “No, Father. It is I who holds her. I refuse to leave her,” Dave said boldly.
         He wrapped his arms around Neva even tighter to protect her. Neva saw Lord
James‟ hazel eyes burn with anger. He fired his crossbow. Neva broke free of Dave‟s grip
and pushed him out of the way. The bolt, which would have hit Dave‟s chest, became
embedded into Neva‟s shoulder. She gasped in pain and fell to the ground. She could feel
the bolt‟s enchantments fiercely burning her skin.
         “No!” Dave yelled. “I can‟t believe you, Father…”
         One soldier called out, “I‟ll take care of the Swordslinger.”
         Lord James said before leaving, “Alright, Morrison. Just patch her up in her jail
cell.” Then, Neva completely blacked out.
         She awoke in a plain looking room. She was in a comfortable bed with silken
sheets. She heard the sound of soft snoring beside her. Neva turned to find Dave asleep in
a chair beside her. Then, she turned to view the room and found two guards looking at
her. I hate waking up in strange places, Neva thought to herself as she peered at them.
Their eyes were wide open as they stared at her. Then, a guard with a full helmet entered
the room.
         “You‟re up. Good,” he said as he seated himself at the edge of her bed. She
recalled the last thing she her being something about jail. Neva didn‟t think that the room
she was in was a prison cell.
         She cocked her head to one side as she asked the guard, “Where am I? All I
remember is hearing something about jail…or something…” The guard took his helmet
off to reveal himself. He was none other than Seth.
         “You‟re in my house. I was supposed to take you to jail, but I gave Lord James
the slip and took you here. I also healed your arm,” he said with a smile so comfortingly
familiar to her. Neva smiled and then looked at her arm. She remembered pushing Dave



                                                                                         63
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


out of the way of some assailant.
         “Thank you, Seth,” Neva said. “Why are they here though?” She motioned
towards the guards standing at the door.
         “Oh, those are my friends,” Seth replied. “I had them be on look out for Lord
James. Don‟t mind them. They‟re just a little…ah, you know, about seeing you.” Neva
smiled and laughed a bit. The two walked out of the room, and Neva turned to Seth.
         “Seth…” she said putting on a most pitiful face.
         He looked at her and said, “I‟ve seen that face before. What do you need?”
         “Well, my good friend was taken into prison for killing the man I was after for so
long,” Neva said.
         “The Canute?” asked Seth. Neva nodded in reply. “Ah, I see. Well, I don‟t know.
I‟ve put my position in jeopardy enough by having you here. Now you want me to break
out a prisoner? I know you’re a crazy villain, but I‟m sane you know.”
         Neva laughed and said, “I know. What if you just helped a little? I could get
someone else to do the dirtier work. Please, Seth. It‟s wrong that they lock up Hisao for
killing the man I was supposed to kill. It may as well be my fault he‟s in there. If only I
had done my job, I wouldn‟t even be in this mess and nor would Hisao.”
         “Aw, now hindsight only makes us all feel worse about things, and we all know
foresight is impossible. What happens just happens. I‟ll help you, but only if it won‟t get
me into trouble. Who did you have in mind to do the „dirtier work‟ exactly?” Seth
inquired.
         She said with a slight grin, “Well, do you know where I could find Thomas?”
         Seth began laughing and replied, “I actually do know. He‟s in Witherfroth. He‟s
got a great house that overlooks the Black Water River. I bet the little scoundrel would be
more than willing to help you. He told me he misses seeing you around.”
         “Yeah,” she said quietly, “I miss seeing him around as well.” Neva carefully
thought out a plan in her mind. “You wouldn‟t happen to know how to, well, sail a boat,
would you?” she asked.
         “Funny you ask. I just recently learned how to. It‟s simple really…” Seth said.
         “Good, good. That‟s what I‟ll have you do. You sail me to Witherfroth from Port
Skymack, and then you can sail Thomas and I back. We‟ll ride down to Helix, grab
Hisao, and come back up. You can then sail us back to Witherfroth once more. We‟ll
hideout in Thomas‟ place maybe. Or…well, I have somewhere else in mind. Will you do
that for me?”
         “Yeah, I will,” he answered. Neva smiled and gave him an extra tight bear hug. “I
forgot how much those hurt!” Seth yelled. Beside Neva, Dave awoke and shook his head.
         “What‟s going on?” he asked yawning. “Oh, Neva you‟re up. I‟m so glad you‟re
alright.”
         “I‟ll get all of us something to eat,” Seth said as he left the room. Dave took
Neva‟s hand and gently stroked it as he looked into her eyes.
         “Neva, I‟m sorry my father…you know…” he whispered.
         She smiled and said, “It‟s alright. I‟ve taken my share of knocks. This is no
worse.” She pulled up her shirt to reveal the deep scars on her abdomen.
         “My word…” Dave said quietly as he peered at the scars.
         He hugged her warmly and placed his forehead against hers. Before either could
stop themselves, their lips met tenderly. Neva smiled slightly and pulled herself closer as



                                                                                         64
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


she wrapped an arm around Dave‟s strong neck. A loud gasp came from the doorway and
the two quickly slipped out of each other‟s grasps.
        “Lord…Dave…?” the young guard said. Dave slightly reddened and pushed his
glasses further upon the brim of his nose.
        He turned and said, “Yes, Stevens?” The wide-eyed young man slowly backed out
of the room and briskly marched down the hallway. “Anyway, I figured that something
may have happened to that oh-so famous robe of yours. I went ahead and had a new one
tailored for you. It‟s the same as the last one, since the same man made it. He told me a
young man, a friend of yours, had given you the first one.”
        He placed a package wrapped in thin paper upon the bed. Neva smiled and
unwrapped it to reveal the same robe. Her name glittered on the chest part in gold thread.
She almost squealed with joy as she had the first time. Neva rose out of bed and slipped it
on.
        “Thank you so much,” she said happily. Dave nodded as he watched her tie the
silk sash at her waist.
        He commented quietly, “You look…great in it.” Neva smiled and blushed lightly.
Then, Seth bustled in with a plate full of assorted fruits.
        “Sorry, it‟s all I have,” he said.
        “Oh it‟s fine. I‟d be afraid to eat had you cooked us something,” she said
grinning. Seth laughed and set the plate down. Neva grabbed a few apples and began
eating.
        Seth said, “Hey, your robe looks like brand new.”
        “That‟s because it is,” Neva said winking.
        Seth smiled as he pulled an orange from the plate. They ate in silence, but it was a
relaxed one. Then, Neva prepared herself to leave. It feels like that’s all I ever seem to do,
she thought. All I ever do is leave places and people behind. I leave part of me behind,
too. She sighed as she placed her two blades in her belt. She silently cursed, for she
wished for her shortblade. Neva was reluctant to leave Seth‟s home, but she knew she
had to. She promised Hisao she‟d get him out and she planned on doing so. Neva opened
the door of Seth‟s home cautiously. She had a small fear dwelling inside of her that Lord
James would be waiting around any corner and watching her every move, like that man
outside the door back in Witherfroth, whoever he was.
        Behind her, Dave whispered in her ear, “I hope to see you again. I just wish you‟d
stay for once.”
        “You know I can‟t. I just wish I could. Only wish…” Neva whispered in return.
        He asked with a sad look in his eyes, “Where are you going this time?”
        “That,” she said, “I can‟t say. I wouldn‟t want you getting in trouble on my
behalf. I don‟t want two accounts of that. Farewell Dave. I hope to see you soon.”
        She mounted Silverwave and Dave waved goodbye in silence. Neva waved back
and then made her way through Helix as fast as she could, followed by Seth on his horse.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she passed through the city gates unnoticed by the guards.
Many of the passersby gazed at Neva in fear and awe as they always did.
        After a day of traveling they made it to Port Skymack. They walked upon the
dock and peered at the ships. Seth walked passed each one inspecting them thoroughly.
He stopped at a rather small ship and nodded.
        “I think this is a good one,” Seth said.



                                                                                           65
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


        Neva peered at it and replied, “It‟s really small…”
        He rolled his eyes and said, “It‟s small, yes, but it‟s fast. I‟m sure you‟d much
rather want speed than excess legroom.”
        “Alright. When should we seize this little raft?” Neva whispered.
        “Uh, seize? We could just buy it, and it‟s a sloop. I know you have money. Don‟t
even try denying it,” Seth said laughing. Neva scoffed and set a small bag with some
money in his hand. He thanked her and went off to find the harbormaster.
        Seth came back with a slip of paper tucked into his boot. His smile told Neva he
purchased the boat. She stepped onto the ship followed by her stallion as Seth worked on
releasing it from the dock. As soon as the anchor was up, the boat drifted out of Port
Skymack and into the Drelyte Ocean.
        Neva entered the small living quarters below deck to find barrels and sacks lying
in every nook and cranny. Neva used a number of crates to form a makeshift stall for
Silverwave. He didn‟t seem to mind being on the ship at all. Then, she lay down on a
sack and thought to herself. Deep in thought, Neva finally fell asleep.
        She awoke to the rough rocking of the ship. Neva was thrown off her sack as the
sloop hit a choppy wave. She groaned and rose to her feet. The boat violently rocked to
the side and she fell on top of Seth. He was sleeping on some sacks nearby and awoke
instantly.
        He gave a sly smile and said, “Well, well, well. I never thought I‟d see this side of
you, Neva. You could have just asked.”
        “Don‟t get any funny ideas, Morrison,” Neva said glaring. He started laughing as
Neva lifted herself up. She rolled her eyes and sat atop a barrel as the ship rocked
uneasily.
        “Hey Neva. Did you ever find out about your parents at all?” Seth asked.
        “No,” she replied. “Why do you ask?” She peered at him curiously, almost hoping
he might have known something.
        “Oh, no reason. I was just curious,” he replied.
        Neva said, “Yeah, I just don‟t know. I tried asking Jeremy awhile back and it
didn‟t work out too well. I have the feeling he knows something but doesn‟t want to tell
me. Maybe I wasn‟t meant to know. I‟ve somewhat given up on finding who I really am.
I just don‟t know what it‟s worth anymore. Anyway, I‟ve gotten used to be a no one.”
        Seth looked up at Neva and said, “You‟re not a no one. You have a name. You‟re
Neva, and you‟re a well-respected person.”
        “I‟m „well-respected?‟ My name is dirt in most cities. Lord James wants me dead.
Thanks anyway, Seth,” Neva replied with a sigh.
        Her expression was grim as she stepped out onto the deck of the ship for some
fresh air. She leaned up against the railing on the deck‟s edges. The wind swished
through the sails as it blew through Neva‟s hair. Sailing was not one of her favorite ways
to travel. She didn‟t feel the same security as she did when she was riding on land. The
only reason Neva decided on sailing to Witherfroth was because it was faster than riding
though more expensive.
        It took them three full days of sailing, including the first day. They sailed into the
Black Water River early in the morning and made their way upstream. The Black Water
River was odd in that it flowed north rather than south. It made for easy access to the
Drelyte Ocean though. They reached the dock at Witherfroth and Neva let out a small



                                                                                            66
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


sigh as she recognized the fort.
         “Alright, you stay here. Silver and I will go find Thomas.” Neva said as she
stepped off the dock. She made her way through the still town in the early hours. Just as
Seth had told her, she saw Thomas‟ large house next to the river. It was a nice manor.
Neva jumped off Silverwave‟s back and he began grazing freely. She strode up to the
door and as she lifted her hand to knock, the door burst open.
         “Neva!” Thomas exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” He immediately crushed
her into a large hug.
         “Ack! Yeah, it‟s good to see you too, Thomas. Can I breathe now?” Neva choked.
He laughed and released her. She looked at him and saw the same man she had seen
almost all of her life. Thomas was one of those who never seemed to change. Even his
appearance seemed the same since he was a boy.
         Thomas grinned and said, “Well, please come in.”
         He placed his hand at her back and led her into his house. As he shut the door
behind them, he let his hand drop just slightly. He smiled slyly as he slipped his hand
onto her rear. Neva immediately threw a left hook to his cheek.
         “Ow! Hmm, I sure haven‟t done that in awhile. I still think it‟s worth it, too.”
Thomas said as he chuckled to himself. Neva rolled her eyes, and then she gazed around
at the interior of his home.
         “Anyway,” he said, “did you hear that Sekei was killed?”
         “Yes,” Neva replied, “I know who did it, too. That‟s why I‟m here. I was
supposed to kill Sekei. It was actually my job, which I don‟t have time to explain. My
friend, Hisao, is now in jail for killing him. I need your help getting him out. I know you
can get me into the prisons and out. The only way I could get into the prison there in
Helix is if I was a prisoner. It‟ll be risky, and I don‟t want you to lose your job with the
Liam Elites or anything. I just hoped maybe you—”
         Thomas interrupted, “Oh, I‟d love to help. I could totally get you in and out of the
jails without getting in trouble. It‟s quite coincidental really…”
         “What?” Neva inquired.
         “Well,” he said, “I‟m in need for a Canute or anyone that may know Canuus.
Recently, an assassin attempted to kill that lass that‟s staying here with us. She‟s a
different kind of woman I‟d say. Hmm, she almost reminds me of you in a way. Anyway,
the lady found a note written in Canuus on the Canute Assassin‟s body. Then, she tried to
kill Sekei herself one morning but found him already dead. There she found another note
in Canuus. We need someone to translate those. They may have something to do with her
and her being a Lycan or something.”
         She looked at him curiously and said, “Alazondra?”
         He nodded in reply. Neva had no idea that woman had so much potential. She
wanted to kill him herself, she thought. Impressive. Neva wanted to speak with the Lycan.
She remembered how they had broken from jail in Witherfroth together. I could use her
strength.
         “You know,” Neva said, “for some reason I had the feeling that even when Sekei
was dead, this mission wouldn‟t be over. This is the longest quest I‟ve yet to embark on. I
have to finish it though.”
         Thomas smiled and said, “If anyone can do it, it‟s you. You‟re such a strong
person. Don‟t forget I‟m always around to help you though.” She smiled and nodded. He



                                                                                           67
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


gave her a friendly hug. He gently patted her back. Then, she felt his hand patting her
hind end instead. She hit him in the back of the head and pulled away from him.
         “That‟s twice, Thomas!” she exclaimed.
         He said sheepishly, “I know. Sometimes I just can‟t contain myself. Haha. You
know me…” Neva laughed at him.
         “Thomas you never do change. No matter how many times I have to beat you
over the head with something,” Neva said as they entered his parlor. She saw the Mage
named Fritchel sitting in the parlor. Behind her, she heard someone come to the door.
         “Hello Neva,” a voice greeted. She recognized it as Alazondra‟s voice.
         “Why hello! Glad to see you again, my good friend,” Neva turned and said,
smiling brightly at her. She was very relieved to see her alive and away from Sekei.
         Thomas said, “Good morning, Alazondra. I see you know Neva.” Alazondra
nodded in agreement and greeted Fritchel. Neva noticed the way the Mage looked at
Alazondra. I’d bet Silverwave, Neva thought, that he’s in love with her and her with him.
         “Yes,” Neva stated, “she helped me out of prison. And actually…hmm, never
mind.” Alazondra looked at her. She decided to tell Alazondra her plans in private.
“Anyway, I heard about all you adventures with the assassin and death of Sekei. I never
would have thought the man to be so corrupt, yet I guess you can never really know a
person fully.”
         Alazondra replied, “I didn‟t expect it either.” Behind them, the two men began
talking and Neva took the opportunity to pull Alazondra into Thomas‟ study.
         Neva whispered, “Alazondra, you know the notes you found? My friend is a
Canute. His name is Hisao, and he can translate them.”
         “Oh great. Where is he?” Alazondra asked.
         Neva averted her eyes to the ground slightly, “Well, that‟s the problem. He‟s in
jail. I don‟t know if you want to risk another bump against the city boys or not, but trust
me it could be worth it. He‟s smart anyway, so I doubt it would be too much trouble. I
don‟t want to put you in danger either. I just need your help.”
         “Okay,” Alazondra replied, “whatever it is, I‟ll do it.” She was very happy that
Alazondra was agreeing to help her. Neva knew she‟d need her help.
         Neva hugged Alazondra and exclaimed, “Oh thank you so much! You‟re a good
pal, Alazondra.” She sat down in a chair. Neva crossed her legs and peered out the
window, thinking for a moment.
         Alazondra asked, “Is he here in Witherfroth?”
         Neva answered, “No. He‟s in Helix. That‟ll be another thing. We‟ll have to travel
all the way across the country.”
         “We as in you and I?” Alazondra inquired.
         “Well, it would be you, Thomas, and I. He knows a lot about Helix, since he‟s a
soldier. Fritchel will stay here and see if anything comes up. We need you because you‟re
a Lycan. You may be our only chance. I‟m sure it‟d be great fun for you as well,” Neva
explained.
         “Do we have to go through the Harthyung Forest?” Alazondra groaned.
         “No,” Neva said. “The best way is to sail west along the coast. Then, once due
north of Helix we‟ll ride down. It‟ll be faster and safer, especially for you. Well, it‟d be
safe for Thomas as well. He‟s deadly scared of Lycans. Hmm, yes, it sounds good to me.
So, you are willing?”



                                                                                          68
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


         “Of course,” Alazondra nodded.
         Neva whispered lowly to Alazondra just before leaving the room, “Thomas will
take you to the docks tomorrow at noon. Don‟t be afraid to pack heavy. You may need
it.” Then, Neva left the room. She found Thomas talking with the Mage in the parlor still.
         “I‟ve decided upon taking Alazondra as well. She‟ll be of great help I think. Don‟t
worry. I‟ll do my best to protect her, Fritchel,” Neva said.
         “I‟d rather you not take her. Finally, I‟ve gotten her from the clutches of Sekei
and now you wish to take her off?” he exclaimed.
         She sneered and replied, “Mage, don‟t even go there. I got her out of jail for you.
I doubt you would have done that. I feel a lack of gratitude here. This is as much her
quest as it is mine. I will take every precaution I can to ensure her safety.”
         “Yeah, I don‟t know if I trust you though,” Fritchel said with a scowl. “Maybe
you hate Lycans. I know about how you work for Lord James now. He‟s one of them. I‟d
say you are too. I just…”
         Neva inquired, “What kind of „one of them‟ are you talking about?”
         “They hate Lycans. They‟re all out to get us. It‟s horrible what they‟ve done to
numbers of members of our clan. I wouldn‟t be surprised if you were one of them
though,” Fritchel answered gravely.
         “If I hated Lycans, why would I ask for her help now? Why did I help her from
jail that night? I could have so easily just killed her right then and there. I didn‟t. Plus I
know you‟re a Lycan too. I have a respect for Lycans, Fritchel. It‟s more than you may
know. The only Lycans I hate are Deltas.”
         Fritchel looked up at her in shock. He realized she was right. The Mage looked at
her steely grey eyes as she peered at him placidly. There was an honesty to her that shone
through her eyes, yet something was hidden behind them. Fritchel wanted to know
exactly what the Swordslinger was hiding. Knowing at least two blades lay hidden within
the folds of her robe kept him from asking anything though.
         Neva whispered to Thomas, “Meet me at the docks at noon with Alazondra.”
         Then, she walked out the door and made her way back through the city with
Silverwave at her side. She kept to the dark alleyways and narrows streets of Witherfroth.
Neva got the eerie sensation that someone was following her through the streets. She felt
as if there was a dark shadow constantly tagging behind her. Her hand instinctively fled
to the hilt of her blade under her robe. The feeling grew to a paranoia as she made her
way to the docks. Before she crossed the large street to the docks, she shifted her eyes to
a nearby window. In it shone her reflection standing alone beside her horse. Then, there
was a small, dark blur just behind her. She quickly turned unsheathing her blade.
         “I sense your fear. I feel so honored that you allow yourself to reveal this
trepidation of me,” a dark and chilling voice said. The speaker was unknown to Neva.
She nervously turned around, her eyes darting frantically around the shadowy alley.
         She composed herself somewhat and demanded, “Reveal yourself, heathen.” The
voice laughed heartily, which shook her down to her inner being.
         “Why,” he asked, “should I do that? I find it amusing to see you in such a panic. It
is a thing all men come to fear at one point, the unknown.” As he said that, Neva spotted
where the man was located; she could see his reflection in a broken window. He was atop
the roof of a building, leaning on the signpost. She played that she still didn‟t know
where he was.



                                                                                           69
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         Neva smiled viciously as she said, “That‟s just it. I‟m not a man.” She swung her
blade into the wooden signpost. It cracked and toppled over as the man came crashing to
the ground. Before Neva could seize the chance to place her sword at his throat, he rose
to his feet.
         “Luck. Pure luck…” the man hissed as he dashed down the alley. Neva didn‟t
bother chasing after him. She only hoped the man wasn‟t an assassin. Then, she
hesitantly sheathed her blades and made her way towards the ship. Neva walked down
into the living quarters, making sure the door was locked behind her.
         “Ah, you‟re here,” Seth said. “How did everything go?”
         “Just fine. They‟ll be here at noon,” Neva replied distantly.
         He asked, “What do you mean „they‟? I thought it was just Thomas.”
         “Alazondra too,” she said simply. Neva lay down on a sack and closed her eyes.
She wanted to rest. The recent disturbance had wreaked an anxiety within her.
         “Are you alright?” Seth asked as seated himself on a crate nearby.
         He knew her well enough to know that a lack of an answer meant she needed
time. Neva was deathly scared on the inside. She remained a stoic and brave character on
the outside, but her inner being was quivering in fright. The last thing she wanted was to
be killed in her sleep by an assassin. Neva didn‟t know who the man was, but it opened
her eyes to possibilities. The tension built inside kept her awake for the rest of the day
and during the night as well. She finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning. She
awoke to the sound of oncoming footsteps. She kept her eyes closed as she listened to the
voices.
         “You‟re such an annoyance,” Neva heard Thomas say as he stomped down the
stairs. She heard another set of footsteps after him. Then, she heard Seth slam his foot
down right in front of her. Neva didn‟t flinch or open her eyes.
         She heard Thomas laugh and say, “You can‟t do it like that, man. It‟s like this…”
She opened her eyes and caught his hand just before he hit her hind end.
         “You never change, Thomas,” Neva said rising from the sack.
         He heaved a defeated sigh, “I had the feeling you weren‟t really sleeping, but I
decided to go for it anyway.” Alazondra and Seth laughed as Thomas grinned widely.
Neva shook her head at him.
         “Well, we should shove off since everyone‟s here. Seth knows how to
commandeer this little stick-raft,” Neva said.
         Seth yelled over his shoulder as he walked towards the door, “It‟s a sloop for the
umpteenth time!” He quickly stepped up the stairs and jogged out the door. The ship
jerked sideways and began moving.
         Later in the day, Neva stepped atop the deck and leaned against the railing as the
sloop slowly made its way down the Black Water River. She watched the Witherfroth
dock grow smaller and smaller.
         Then, Barbados came from behind her and landed on her shoulder. He gently
nipped her ear and extended his foot. Neva turned and saw a note on it. She took the note
off and made her way down the steps into the living quarters. She opened it and read it to
herself. Neva. My father has planned for your execution. Please, take caution. Whatever
you do, avoid Helix if you can. DC.
         She wondered if the dark man back in Witherfroth was an assassin for James.
Neva decided she wasn‟t going to be killed so easy. She was going to use every bit of



                                                                                          70
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


strength, willpower, and intelligence to ensure she lived. Dave. Thanks for the warning. I
think he has sent an assassin after me. I will use caution, especially in Helix. N.
        “One would think this is the wilderness, for heavens‟ sake!” Seth yelled as he
came down the stairs.
        Neva raised a brow and said, “Oh, Morrison?”
        “Well, we have a horse over yonder and you got yourself a little birdie on your
shoulder. What next, goats?” he said. Neva finished her note and wrapped it around the
hawk‟s leg. The hawk flew out an open window in the living quarters. As he passed Seth,
Barbados nipped Seth‟s ear slightly. Neva smirked at Seth but didn‟t say a word.
        Then, Thomas thundered down the steps and greeted, “Hello ladies.”
        “And me!” Seth shouted.
        Thomas looked at him and said, “I did greet you. Note the „ladies‟ part.” Seth
looked at him puzzled.
        “Seth, you poor soul,” Neva said laughing, “he called you a lady.”
        “He did? Hey! That‟s not nice…” Seth mumbled as he sat down.
        “Anyway,” Thomas said, “I was wondering, Neva, what exactly our plan is. You
just told me to get over to the docks so we could rescue that odd friend of yours.”
        She replied, “Well, I plan on having smart-alecks stand in the way of all the bolts
and arrows…and the rest will help me get „that odd friend of mine.‟”
        “No need to get touchy, missy. I‟d say your being the smart-aleck now!” Thomas
began laughing.
        Neva said, “Alright. I plan on leaving Seth at the boat for three reasons. He can
commandeer it, I don‟t want to risk his career as a guard, and think of the havoc he‟d
cause if we did take him. I‟m only kidding, good friend. Then, the rest of us will make
our way to Helix. Thomas will have to take us in as prisoners. He can take us down to
Hisao‟s cell. Alazondra, you‟ll need to break off the bars and help fight any guards that
may come. I‟ll of course be fighting off any guards as well. Then, we get out of there as
quickly as we can.”
        Later that night the two men had fallen asleep. Neva and Alazondra were both
atop the ship, keeping it sailing smoothly. They were nearing the mouth of the river that
led to the ocean. Once satisfied with the boat‟s course, Neva sat on edge of the boat and
stared languidly at the water. She thought to herself and wondered how the whole plan
would lay out. She hoped she wouldn‟t see James. The thought of him finding her scared
her. Neva knew she could probably outsmart him or even fight him, but he had numbers.
Then, Alazondra came and sat beside her. Neva was interested in Alazondra and who she
was.
        “Anything wrong?” Alazondra asked.
        “Oh, I don‟t suppose so. Just thinking about things. I heard you don‟t know your
parents. Is that true?”
        She shrugged and replied, “Well, yeah, pretty much. All I know is that I‟m a
Lycan whose name is really Anne Beomyth Rolath. It‟s all so confusing to me. I just
don‟t know who I really am though.”
        “Ah. I see. Hmm, you‟re Rolath. That‟s interesting. I don‟t know my last name or
parents, so I can relate to that.” Neva replied. Alazondra grew silent. Neva was amazed
that this woman was the reincarnate of Rolath. She felt close to her since she didn‟t know
her parents either.



                                                                                         71
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         “I‟m sorry you don‟t even know your name,” Alazondra said quietly. “I‟ve at
least thought I knew my name, and now I really do know my name. I just don‟t know
where I belong.”
         “Yeah, that‟s always the question. I was once told, „Identity is not specified by a
name or title. It is who you choose to be.‟ That old man may be the smartest man I know.
He taught me a lot,” Neva said.
         She thought about Father Crowe fondly and wondered how he was doing. She
figured he‟d think she was nothing more than a villain by now. They fell into silence as
the night wore on. Soon, they both retired to the living quarters for some sleep.
         It took them three days to reach the mooring location. It was a rather chilly
morning, and the boat reached an empty dock. Silently and gently the boat floated up
beside it. Seth moored the ship and they all stepped onto the wooden dock. Silverwave
clattered onto the dock after them. Standing at the end of the dock were three saddled
horses.
         “Where did these come from…?” Neva whispered. She stood looking at them,
pondering why they were there. Then, she spotted a note on the saddle. She opened it and
read it. Dearest Neva. I hope these help you in your quest. A Faithful Admirer.
         Neva said incredulously, “This guy‟s good.”
         “Who is it?” Thomas asked.
         She handed him the note and said, “I don‟t know who he really is, but he always
signs his notes with „A Faithful Admirer.‟ I just wonder how the hell he found out I was
coming north of Helix and to this dock.”
         Thomas nodded and replied, “Well, I‟d say he‟s your Faithful Stalker maybe.
Hah. You‟ve got quite a little mystery there, eh?”
         Neva shrugged and mounted Silverwave. Neva wondered who the man was. She
figured only Seth and Thomas knew her plans, but neither could be the admirer. They had
been with her. She felt there was someone watching her when she was unaware. Neva
didn‟t know whether or not the horses were a trick or not.
         “Hmm, see? There are three, but only two of us need horses. He wasn‟t right
about that at least.” Thomas noted.
         Neva thought for a moment then replied, “No, he was right. There will be three.
Once we get Hisao, there will be three. I just wonder how that man knows it all…”
         “Ah, damned bastard,” Thomas mumbled.
         Neva thought about the mysterious man. He had given her Barbados, and he‟d
proven worthy. She decided to use the horses. They all mounted and rode past the ghost
town of Port Skymack. She told them about her travels as they went along.
         “Let me clear this up. You think that crazy Mage may have had something to do
with the death of Captain Balks?” Thomas asked.
         “Yes,” she answered. “We have two notes in Canuus. My little pup can translate
those for us. I think the messages contained in those notes will help us all. I have the
feeling Sekei was making bad deals with Canutes and the Captain somehow found out.
Then, Sekei sent someone to kill him. Maybe he sent a Canute Assassin to do it. He
couldn‟t have done it himself because Alazondra tells me he couldn‟t have been in Helix
at the time of the murder.”
         Thomas nodded and said, “That makes sense to me. Are you totally sure that
Sekei has something to do with the murder though?” Neva grew somewhat silent for a



                                                                                          72
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


moment. The truth was Neva was totally unsure of the entire plan. She had no idea who
really killed Captain Balks. The missing pages in Balks‟ journal made her doubt it all.
        She finally answered, “I am not sure. There were two pages ripped out of his
journal. The only hints that pointed to a murder were the unpleasant dealings with Sekei.
There may be a killer out there with some buried secret. We‟re not all too sure.” Neva felt
tension grow between both Thomas and Alazondra.
        Alazondra said, “If I may give my input, I feel there is something more sinister
lying underneath.” Neva turned and looked at her.
        She had a grim look as she said, “I think so too, and that‟s what scares me.”
        “You ladies shan‟t fear however,” Thomas said in a mock-heroic voice. “You‟re
with Thomas Lowet. I happen to be the bravest—and most handsome—adventurer this
side of the hemisphere.”
        Both Neva and Alazondra broke into fits of laughter.
        “Well, I do feel my dignity has been injured,” he mumbled. Neva smiled at
Thomas. She was glad he was always around to break the tension. As long as Neva could
remember, he had always been there all along to make her laugh.
        The rest of the day was spent making their way to Helix. It was nightfall when
they finally saw the twinkling city lights. Neva felt a small quaking fear within her. In the
back of her mind, an image of Lord James finally executing her resided dauntingly. She
kept a brave face as her inner being quivered in apprehension. They stopped just before
the gates and tied the three horses to trees while Silverwave wandered. Thomas put on his
armor, and Neva and Alazondra made themselves appear like prisoners.
        Then, Thomas led them through the city just like they really were prisoners. He
kept to the shadows so as not to draw attention. Neva and Alazondra‟s safety was as
important to him as his very own. As they crept through the sleeping city, Thomas
couldn‟t help but think of the times he‟d sneak through Piliad with Neva as children. He
smiled to himself as he remembered how he‟d always talk her into doing mischievous
things. They‟d sneak down to the creek to play in the water at night when they were
supposed to be sleeping. All the memories settled firmly into his mind as he led the two
women into the heart of Helix. Soon they had reached the fort and a guard stood outside
the gates.
        “Halt! Who are you and what are you doing?” the guard asked.
        Thomas said, “I am Elite Lowet, second class. I‟ve found these two women
displaying disorderly conduct in the local tavern. I‟m taking them in for a few days.”
Neva hoped the darkness and the disguises were enough to fool him.
        “Hmph,” the guard said, “women…please continue.”
        Neva silently sighed in relief. Thomas led them into Fort Derelict. Neva peered
through the darkness for any sign of Lord James at all. She knew he‟d recognize her on
sight. They stole down into the prison. Neva knew the place since she herself had been in
and out of it a number of times. She‟d always escaped before any action could be taken
however.
        In a dark cell at the end of the prisons, Hisao sat on the ground leaning against the
bars. He didn‟t look up as they approached him but merely kept his head low. Neva heard
his quiet snoring and she realized he was asleep. She reached a hand through the bars and
pulled his ear sharply. He let out a low growl as he opened an eye sleepily.
        “Oh, I should have known it was you,” he whispered. “Are you sure you want to



                                                                                           73
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


do this?”
         Even in the dark light, Neva saw concern in his silvery eyes. Her reply was a
simply nod. Then, she turned to Alazondra and peered at her. Alazondra looked down the
hall, and then she slipped her necklace off. As she did, her transformation came quick and
she became the white Lycan of the legends. Neva was in awe as she watched Alazondra
rise to her feet. She had a deep-rooted respect for Alazondra. Neva felt that she was a
brave soul to face up to the fact that she was a Lycan. Neva grabbed the blade from
Thomas‟ belt and kept her eyes directly at the end of the long hall. Her eyes searched for
any sign of movement in the shadows.
         Alazondra took a charge for the bars of the prison. The very stone walls of the
prison seemed to shudder in response. The door was bashed in pretty well and hung by a
single hinge. Hisao pulled the door off and leaned it against the wall. He walked out of
the cell smiling happily. Neva then picked up Alazondra‟s necklace and placed it around
her neck. She became her normal self once more and Neva helped her to her feet. She felt
luck was on her side. Neva placed the sword back in the scabbard at Thomas‟ waist,
thankful she didn‟t need to use it.
         “Thank you, all of you. I know how dangerous it is to do something like this. I
promise somehow I‟ll make it up to you,” he said gratefully.
         Neva replied quickly, “I have something in mind. Let‟s get going.”
         Without another word, they made their way down through the prisons. If only,
Neva thought, we make it out of here, we’ll be perfectly fine. They made their way to the
armory to find Hisao‟s rare blade and did so quickly. She hoped for the best as they
finally left the prison. They stuck to the shadows cast by the moonlight as they snuck
back through the fort. Neva‟s heart and mind were racing with adrenaline and panic.
         Then, she peered up at the top of the wall and saw a dark figure. It appeared like a
man watching them. She quickened her pace as she looked intensely at the shadow form.
Slowly it moved across the parapet as they moved. She shook her head wondering if she
was imagining it. Neva averted her eyes in front of her and tried putting it out of her
mind.
         A whistle pierced through the silence of the night. Neva looked up to see
Barbados soaring above them. She knew he‟d attract attention and that their mission was
over. Then, she watched the hawk fly over them as if he didn‟t see them at all. He flew to
the shadowy figure atop the wall and perched himself on what looked like the shoulder of
the man. Neva saw an arm reach up and caress the bird. She wanted to know what
Barbados was doing and who the man was. Thomas, Alazondra, and Hisao stopped and
peered up at the wall. Neva nodded for them to continue forward. The rest of the way out
went without any alarm. Neva could finally breathe normally as she reached the location
of where the four horses stood grazing quietly.
         “What was Barbados doing with that guy up on the wall, Neva?” Hisao asked.
         She looked at him and said, “I don‟t know. I don‟t even know who the man was. I
just wish I did.” Neva wondered curiously about the man. She jumped atop Silverwave as
the other three mounted their horses.
         Neva asked, “So where‟s Prince at?”
         “I left him at the hideaway. He‟s safe,” Hisao replied smiling.
         Neva grinned back at him. She missed seeing his doggish face smirking at her.
They quickly made their way down the road that led north to Port Skymack.



                                                                                          74
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


        As they rode onwards, Neva began feeling light-headed. She ignored it and
pressed on further. The dizziness never lifted, but Neva figured it was exhaustion from
the long, stressful day. Then, the world began fading in front of her eyes. She vainly
attempted to grasp hold of Silverwave‟s mane but ended up falling. Neva hit the ground
hard, landing on her back. She vaguely heard the others shouting her name before
blacking out completely.
        A soft, whispering echo filled her mind, “Neva, I know you feel it‟s time you
knew who you were.”
        She shook her head feebly and found herself at the steps of the temple in Piliad.
Neva sat up and peered at the dark statues of the saints. She saw a dark grey wolf seated
beside her.
        “You‟ve lived so long wondering, yet I‟ve always kept it hidden. I do feel the
truth must stay hidden however. Always, always. Hide the truth!” the voice screamed
loudly. It began laughing with such a chilling air of malice that it brought fear to Neva as
she hadn‟t felt in a long time.
        “Who are you?” she asked in vain. The voice merely continued to laugh. Then,
the temple began to collapse around her and the dream faded from view. She began to
feel chilled to the very bone as new voices sounded around her.
        “Neva! I think she‟s waking up. Come on, girl,” she heard Thomas yell.
        She forced her eyes to open. Neva was shivering uncontrollably from the cold
sweat running down herself. Her breathing was heavy and labored. She found she was
being held by Thomas atop his horse. She could see they were slowly moving along.
        He asked her, “Are you alright? What the heck happened?”
        She opened her eyes widely and said, “No…he was….the truth. It‟s…” The truth
isn’t about some bad deal with Lycans or Canutes, she thought. It’s about me. Someone
doesn’t want me knowing my parents and would kill to ensure that. Captain Balks must
have known something about my parents.
        “What are you saying? What truth?” Thomas asked anxiously.
        Neva finally regained her senses and replied, “He knew about me, about my
parents maybe. Someone killed him because of that. Someone doesn‟t want me knowing
or anyone for that matter. I…” She lost herself once more. The darkness was closing in
around her, forcing her mind to shut. She struggled to maintain conscious, but she ended
up slipping off before she could stop herself.
        Neva awoke inside the ship, lying on a few sacks. She weakly sat up and leaned
her head against a barrel. She could feel the chill of the cold sweat that dampened her
robe. She shivered lightly as she curled up, tucking her knees under her chest. The ship
gently bobbed in the water as Neva stared languidly at the wooden floorboards.
        Then, she remembered her dream and sat straight up. She looked around for a sign
of anyone else. She rose to her feet and ran atop the deck. There she found Alazondra,
Hisao, Seth and Thomas talking. It was daytime and the beautiful ocean waters crashed
against the boat‟s side rhythmically.
        “Hey Neva,” Thomas said rising. “How are you feeling?”
        She nodded and replied, “I‟m fine. Just fine…” Hisao got up and softly patted her
back. She smiled lightly at him. Then, both Seth and Alazondra hugged her.
        “So much love for the Swordslinger,” Thomas said laughing. She leaned against
the mast of the ship and stared at the memorizing waters of the ocean.



                                                                                         75
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


        Hisao peered at her and asked, “What‟s the matter?”
        “It‟s the dream I had. I just don‟t know what it all means exactly,” she replied
somewhat distantly.
        Thomas seated her down next to him and all the others, “Well, would you tell us
about it then?” She sat down and related them to her the dream she had. When Neva
mentioned a grey wolf being there Alazondra looked up slightly.
        “A dark grey wolf?” she said.
        Neva answered, “Yeah. It wasn‟t the one talking though. The wolf was sitting
there motionless, kind of looking down at me. Know anything?”
        “I don‟t know,” Alazondra replied, “I once had a dream about Lycans. There was
a dark grey Lycan who I had never seen before. I still don‟t know who he is.”
        Neva thought hard for a moment. The wolf was pretty big, she thought. The more
she attempted to remember the more the dream would fade in her memory. Neva sighed
and stood up once more. She sat at the edge of the sloop atop the railing. She sat there
thinking for some time. The sun sank low below the pure blue horizon, and Neva finally
went into the living quarters to rest.
        The days passed slowly on the ship. When three days had finally passed, they
were back at Witherfroth. They sat below deck while Seth moored the sloop. He came
below deck and Neva gave Hisao the notes.
        “Hey, I need you to translate these. That‟s how you‟ll repay us,” she said. Hisao
nodded and read the letters to himself for a moment.
        “Alright,” he said, “I‟ll read the one you found with the assassin first then. „Ken-
san. I need you to dispose of a young woman by the name of Alazondra Graystone. She
may be using the name Anne Beomyth Rolath. I am entrusting you to find her and
quickly execute her. All I ask is that you get the body to me as soon as you kill her. You
will be paid accordingly. Kail.‟”
        “Yep. Now here‟s the one from Sekei‟s body. „Kail. You have caused my
brother's death, for this our clan shall shun you. We each feel it is the just thing to do in
honor of our brother. May all the unmerciful things of this earth befall you, Betrayer. Ha-
Mei.‟ Sekei must have been using the alias „Kail‟ with these Canutes.” Alazondra wrote
what he said down on the back of the notes.
        “Thank you so much, sir,” she said happily. “I need to find Fritchel now, though.”
        Neva nodded and said, “We‟ll all take you to Fritchel. He can look after you. I bet
he‟ll be glad to see you.”
        Together, they walked through the town. Neva could see the joy in Alazondra‟s
eyes as they walked up to the large manor by the river. She hurried to the door and
knocked upon it with glee. Neva watched as Fritchel opened it up and scooped Alazondra
into his arms. Yeah, thought Neva, they’re totally head over heels for each other. Then,
the Mage looked at her. She could see he still had a distrustful view.
        “Here she is,” Neva said, glaring intently upon Fritchel. “The notes are translated,
and she‟s sound as can be. I think I deserve some credit for that, or at least some respect.
Don‟t you think, Mage?”
        He grumbled lowly and replied, “Aye, maybe so, Swordslinger.” Then, Fritchel
made to shut the door but Neva edged her shoulder in and leaned against it.
        “You say „maybe?‟ Now, why is that?” she asked firmly.
        He replied coldly, “I already told you I don‟t trust villains.” He shoved her out of



                                                                                           76
Swordslinger                                                                       A.A. Yeargin


the doorway and slammed the door.
        “Mage!” she yelled. Behind her Thomas, Seth and Hisao were walking up.
        Thomas peered at her and asked, “What‟s the problem?”
        “Well,” Neva replied, “Fritchel refuses to let me in.” He scoffed and kicked the
door. It remained shut.
        “That sure didn‟t work out like I hoped,” Thomas said in embarrassment. Seth
shook his head and simply knocked on the door for Thomas.
        “Neva, get on!” Fritchel yelled from the other side.
        Thomas yelled back, “No, it‟s me. Let me in.” The door open and Thomas held it
open for Neva. She walked in smugly, flashing Fritchel a vicious grin. He held a firm
look of contempt as she walked past him. Seth and Hisao followed in behind.
        “I don‟t know why you bother with her,” Fritchel mumbled. “Nothing but
trouble.”
        Thomas looked at him and said, “Oh now, come on. Trouble is fun, especially
Neva.” He smiled warmly at Neva. “Isn‟t that right?” As he said so, Thomas deviously
snuck his hand to Neva‟s lower backside. Her reply came in the form of a backhanded
strike to the face. He grumbled to himself but remained grinning widely.
        “If she‟s staying, I‟ll leave,” Fritchel said dismally.
        Thomas said, “Well, alright. Suit yourself.” Without much other chatter, Fritchel
made his way upstairs to pack his things. Alazondra followed after him. Then, Thomas
led Neva, Hisao, and Seth into his roomy study.
        “Well, I daresay we had an adventure, eh?” he said. Seth and Hisao nodded as
they seated themselves at the table in the corner. Neva sat in a large cushioned sofa
beside the lifeless fireplace.
        Neva said with a grin, “Yeah, I think it‟s been my most challenging quest yet.”
                                  [Bittersweet Homecoming]

         Later in the day, the Mage left the manor with Alazondra. Neva was slightly
saddened by her swift departure. She felt that she had become somewhat attached to
Alazondra, and Neva hoped the best for her. Neva felt that Alazondra, after all she‟d been
through, deserved to finally return home. She knew the Mage would take Alazondra
there. However, Neva just couldn‟t figure out as to why Fritchel refused to trust her. In
addition, Hisao decided to take his leave that night as well.
         “I have to be going. I can‟t thank you all enough for what you did. I‟m sure Neva
will tell me of anything I could do to repay you. Like she would let me forget,” Hisao
said.
         She replied, “Well, who wouldn‟t drop the „I saved your life from the bolts back
at Fort Derelict?‟”
         Hisao laughed at her. Neva waved to him as he went out the door. Then, Neva
sadly watched him walk down the road and disappear into the night. Walking back
towards the parlor, she caught wind of a conversation between Seth and Thomas.
         “So what exactly did you find out?” she heard Thomas ask.
         Seth replied in a low tone, “Well, it wasn‟t much, but I found out just a little about
her parents. It turns out…”
         Neva burst into the room and said, “Wait!” They both looked at her in surprise.
“Whose parents?”



                                                                                            77
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


        Seth‟s eyes dropped to the floor and replied, “Yours.” She let out a small gasp.
Then, she remembered her dream. The message was to „Hide the Truth.‟ She didn‟t want
Seth dying like Captain Balks did.
        “Don‟t say a word,” she said silently. Neva peered out each window of the room.
Then, she looked out the door and down the hall. There wasn‟t a soul to be found.
        Thomas inquired, “What are you talking about?”
        “He wants to hide the truth,” Neva said, the sound of panic and fear rising in her
voice. Thomas merely shook his head and laid her down on the lounge sofa by the
fireplace.
        He gently patted her head and said, “It‟s alright, Neva. No one will hurt you.”
        She sat up and said, “He‟s not out to hurt me. He‟s out to hurt those who know.
He doesn‟t want anyone to know.”
        “About your parents?” Seth asked. Neva nodded in reply and laid back down in
despair. Both peered at her but neither understood exactly what she was saying.
        Thomas said after a long silence, “I think we should all get to bed. The extra
bedroom is open now for you, Neva. Seth, you can stay in the parlor.” Seth grumbled
lowly to himself as he got out of his chair.
        Neva peered at both of them and said, “No. I need to stay with Seth.” She knew
the minute he was alone, he‟d end up dead. Neva wasn‟t going to let that happen.
        Thomas‟ awkwardly perked his brow as he said, “Eh…” Seth looked at Neva with
a perplexed yet intrigued expression.
        “It‟s for his protection you two children,” she replied scowling.
        “Neva,” said Seth, “of all people, I don‟t need protection.”
        She said simply, “I‟m sure Captain Balks felt that way too.”
        A silence overcame all three, and Seth finally gave in. They walked upstairs to the
guest room, and Neva made sure each window was shut firmly. She placed vases at each
window in case of an intruder entering through them. Neva placed a chair against the
door and decided upon guarding the balcony.
        “Is this all necessary?” Seth asked.
        “Yes,” she replied frostily, “if you want to live through the night.”
        Seth lay down to rest, and Neva turned to the balcony. Soon she could hear his
silent snores in the room.
        “You‟ll have to go through me if you want to kill him,” she muttered to herself
resolutely.
        Her grey eyes peered over the immediate locale. Two statues of soldiers stood on
the balcony. There were two chairs atop it as well. Through the night, she remained
vigilant and wary, yet not a single attacker made his move. It was long into the morning
hours that she felt the depth of her exhaustion. Seth had finally risen from the bed and
patted her back.
        He said, “You look, um…I‟m just going to tell you the truth; you look awful.”
She gave him a weak slug to his abdomen. “Hey! Did you want me to just lie and tell you
that you‟re beautiful?”
        She grinned sarcastically and said, “Of course. That‟s the quickest way to a lady‟s
heart, don‟t you know?”
        “Really now?” Seth said laughing. “I wasn‟t aware that there was a lady
anywhere. Only kidding! Well, you get your „beautiful‟ self to bed now, won‟t you?”



                                                                                         78
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


         Neva smiled and lay on the bed. She placed her weaponry upon the small side
table and rested her head on the pillow. She fell asleep faster than any other time she had
before. Her sleep brought her several dreams, all of which she completely forgot upon
waking. She swung her legs out of the bed to find it was near darkness. She left her
blades upon the side table as she walked out the room. Neva found Seth and Thomas
sitting in the study at the table. Thomas was leaning back in his chair while Seth was
drinking something.
         “Hello gentlemen,” she said walking into the room.
         Both smiled and said, “Hey Neva.”
         She sharply perked her brow and replied, “What? I wasn‟t talking to you two. I
meant those two gentlemanly busts over there on the shelf.”
         Seth scoffed and said in a low voice to Thomas, “My word, what a witch.”
         “I heard that, Morrison,” Neva said.
         “Oh, so now you eavesdrop on our private conversations?” he grumbled
sarcastically.
         With a slight grin she said, “Of course not. I just happened to casually overhear
things.” She paused and gave a theatrical gasp. “You know, I do know this one guy who
eavesdropped on me way back in training. I remember I was having a private
conversation with a certain priest and that young man was so rude. I sure hope he gets his
comeuppance.”
         A wicked sneer formed across her face. Seth slightly reddened and slouched over
his drink sullenly. Thomas laughed and punched his shoulder goodheartedly. Neva began
perusing the shelves in the study. Books lined them all, as well as intricate busts of
warriors and myth figures. Several titles she recognized as she searched them. She picked
one off the shelf and skimmed through the first few pages with a knowing smile.
         Her smile became wider and she turned to the men saying, “Hah, killing and
violence. All for gold and cleavage. What has this world come to? We find this good
literature now?”
         Seth replied, “Of course! Not all books were meant for women, you know. You‟re
the only woman I know who actually does read books.”
         “Hmm. You know, I‟m the only woman you know who knows a few good things
to „spice‟ up a drink like yours, Seth,” she replied wryly. He coughed abruptly as Thomas
laughed loudly. Seth looked at the night sky though the window.
         “I can do it to yours as well, mister,” she said. Seth began laughing too. A silence
grew between the three. The fire glowed as the silence continued. Then, without warning,
a single arrow came shattering through the window. With quick reflexes, Neva sent a
kick to the table to knock it over. The arrows became embedded into the wooden floor.
         “What‟s going on?” Thomas yelled.
         Neva looked at them in fear, “Run! Get out of here. I‟ll stop…” She reached for
her blades only to realize she had left them upstairs. She cursed to herself as she spun to
face the window. Then, when she looked behind her, neither Thomas nor Seth was to be
found.
         “Seth! Thomas!” she yelled desperately. Neva felt her inner being quivering as
the moments passed without any reply. The room was silent and she ran outside
frantically. There she saw a single man crouched outside the window.
         She demanded, “Hey! Where are Seth and Thomas? Tell me now or you‟ll pay for



                                                                                          79
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


it. I swear you will…” The man hissed at her sinisterly. In the dark light, she saw his
black eyes veer directly towards her. His bow was slung over his shoulder.
         “They have been taken, Neva,” the man said. His voice was deep and clear. At the
sound of her name she froze. The wind blew, causing her robes to shudder around her.
She felt numb to the chill it brought as she stared at the man before her.
         She asked him, “Are you the killer? Did you kill Captain Balks?”
         “Knowledge can be a dangerous thing, I am afraid. Some people can possess the
wrong knowledge. That knowledge and those things should stay buried. The people
should too.” His words were coldly brutal yet his voice was smooth.
         “Why?” she asked simply. The word seemed to resonate through the silent air.
         He finally responded saying, “You ask many questions, Neva.”
         “In comparison to whom?” she replied with a smirk.
         “Yet another question,” the man said. “I‟ve finally found you though. Come
now.”
         “No. Not until you tell me who you are and where Thomas and Seth are.” She
said firmly. Neva only wished she had her blades with her. She felt vulnerable without
them.
         He said, “Neva, enough foolishness. Let‟s go.”
         “Do you have issues in comprehending or hearing? I said „No.‟ I think I meant it,”
she said, her temper rising.
         He laughed darkly and walked towards her. In the dull moonlight, she saw him.
He was no ordinary man. His eyes were pure black, matching his hair, and his canines
were long and sharp, even more so than a Canute‟s teeth. The man standing before her
was Vampire. Neva kept herself from scowling at the beast before her. She had never
fought one before, but she knew dealing with them was no better than dealing with a
Delta Lycan.
         She could sense a note of anger in his voice as he said, “My orders decree that if
you do not cooperate I must use whatever means necessary to bring you to them, dead or
alive.”
         His words didn‟t at all sway her. Neva merely peered at him with an
expressionless gaze. The Vampire hissed slightly as he drew his blade. Even still, she
remained motionless. She examined his posture with the blade and how fast he withdrew
it. Neva critically watched every point to get an idea of how challenging of an opponent
she faced. She deemed him somewhat of a novice with the blade, but she figured he had
the constitution for long ranged weaponry.
         “I‟m sure I‟d be equally valuable either dead or alive,” Neva said.
         His dark eyes searched her and he replied, “Oh, you‟re quite valuable, Neva.
Perhaps more than you may know right now…”
         “I don‟t see what I‟m exactly worth,” she said scoffing. “I‟m a villain with a
fixation for blades and fighting.” The Vampire shook his head slowly. His hypnotic eyes
seemed to catch her attention. She quickly averted her steely grey eyes elsewhere.
         “More than you know…” he mumbled. “Now, does this have to occur with
bloodshed, or are you willing to come peacefully?”
         “I told you what my deal is already. Tell me who you are and where Thomas and
Seth are, Vampire.”
         Her eyes could have frozen an inferno at that moment. Neva‟s intense glare



                                                                                        80
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


caused the Vampire to halt for a moment before hissing lowly in response. He placed his
blade at her throat. She could feel that the blade wasn‟t kept to its sharpest. Neva would
hardly call it well made either. She scoffed slightly and sent a kick to the Vampire‟s
abdomen. He doubled over in pain for a brief second before he steadied his blade once
more. Neva spun around him grabbing his neck.
         “Give up now, and I‟ll make sure it‟s not slow and painful,” she said bitterly.
         The Vampire used the handle of his blade to jam into her thigh. He sent it
crashing into the muscle. She felt the tip pierce her skin, but she refused to let go. Using
his strength, the Vampire broke free of her tight grip and sent her flying backwards a
good distance. Her back scraped up against some gnarled tree roots above ground.
There’s no way, she thought, that he’s a normal Vampire. She almost smiled at the irony.
Nothing is normal anymore though. Neva attempted to get to her feet but found the
Vampire standing above her.
         He was shaking his head, “Ah, Neva. You are an exceptional fighter. I really
don‟t want to kill you right now. However, considering the circumstances it must be
done. I will execute you in true Vampire‟s fashion.”
         His grin shone with a wicked and sick malevolence. He stroked Neva‟s neck as
she scowled. Then, she saw the handle of his blade sticking out of its scabbard. As he
opened his fanged mouth to sink into her jugular, she pulled the blade from his belt and
sent it through the Vampire‟s chest. His head fell just past her neck and to the ground
limply. She breathed a sigh of relief. Neva closed her eyes momentarily to relax. When
she opened them there were two loaded crossbows held to her chest.
         “Swordslinger,” a man‟s voice said.
         She peered up at them both only to find two more Vampires above her. She
cursed loudly as she looked up at them. Neva knew she couldn‟t fight both of them. One
was more challenging than originally planned. Two seemed an impossible match even for
her.
         “Okay. You have me. Take me to whoever‟s in charge of you bastards,” she said
getting to her feet.
         Neva didn‟t bother withdrawing the blade from the other Vampire‟s body. Before
she knew it, an odd sensation came over her, and the world flashed white. A cold chill ran
up her spine, as all she could see was the white light. She blinked rapidly in confusion.
When she opened her eyes, she was on her knees in an unknown place. She didn‟t know
what the place was, but all she did know is that it wasn‟t Witherfroth at all.
         Neva mumbled, “What in the hell?”
         “Welcome,” said a dark voice, “to the mausoleum, the sanctum of lost souls. We
here work for the prosperity and well-being of humanity.”
         She was in a large, stone room with a single column in the middle. The column
was intricately designed with winged seraphs and ancient glyphs. There were four halls
leading out of the room. Each was dark and long. Neva looked around for the speaker yet
could not find anyone. The entire place was dark except for the small amount of
moonlight beaming through the windows.
         “There are,” the voice continued, “a select few among us, the society of all
peoples, who have extraordinary talents. They have above average perception and
abnormal qualities that make them stand out. You, Neva, are not exceptional…yet. Here
we plan on making you a goddess.”



                                                                                         81
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


         She finally stopped pacing and stood motionless with no other choice than to
listen to the speaker. Goddess? I wonder what the hell they’re talking about, Neva
thought.
         “Our fine systems and methods will ensure that you become something the world
will come to know for many generations.”
         “What exactly do you plan on doing to me, and where exactly am I?” Neva asked.
Her voice reverberated off the stone walls clearly.
         “Your exact location will not be revealed until a later time. I assure that you‟re in
safe hands. We plan on making you better as a human,” the voice replied.
         “I won‟t cooperate until I know where Thomas and Seth have gone,” she said
stubbornly.
         “As you wish, Neva,” the voice said.
         Coming from one hall, she heard the sound of metal chains scraping upon the
stone floor. The same clamor sounded from the other hall. Before her, Vampires lead
Thomas and Seth into the room, grasping them firmly. Neva kept herself from breaking
tears.
         She shook her head sadly as she peered at them and said, “I‟m so sorry. It‟s all my
fault…”
         Both looked up at her wordlessly. Neither even attempted to say anything to
Neva. Their faces held sorrowful looks as the Vampires held them firmly. She leaned up
against the column in the center of the room. She refused the strong urge to cry.
         “Why? What did they ever do?” Neva asked in all despair. The one who had been
speaking finally stepped into visibility. He was about as obscure as before, as he was
clothed in a dark robe and hidden behind a hood.
         He said lowly, “They know too much. You‟re lucky I keep them alive. You‟re the
only reason they live.”
         “And I‟m the only reason they‟re here,” she mumbled.
         The man replied coldly, “Exactly, Neva.” He turned to the Vampires. “Take them
back to their cells. I‟ll need them later. Now, allow me to escort you to your room.” He
held out his arm.
         Neva scoffed and replied, “I don‟t think so.”
         “Excuse me?” he said.
         “I‟d prefer that my two friends be treated right,” Neva demanded. She knew very
well that she wasn‟t in the position to make the calls, but she decided to take her chances.
“I don‟t want them in cells. For my complete cooperation, I suggest you put them in
regular rooms without shackles. If you want me to exceed expectations put them in a
room near me.” Neva crossed her arms over her chest as the man thought for a moment.
         “Very well. It will be as you say, Swordslinger. Now, will you come? We are
wasting time,” he replied impatiently.
         She scowled at him and said sharply, “You pulled me here. Don‟t gripe at me
about „time.‟ To me, this is a complete waste of time considering I have no idea where I
even am.”
         The man merely sniffed airily and mumbled something incoherently as he led her
down a dark hall. Once they passed the corner, they came to a lit hallway. There was a
series of doors, and they came to the first one. The man opened the door and motioned
for her to enter.



                                                                                           82
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


         “After you,” she said firmly. He heaved an irritated sigh. “I don‟t trust you as
much as you don‟t trust me.”
         The man walked inside the room and stood gazing at her expectantly. Neva
inspected the door to find no lock on either side. She grew extremely wary of the
situation. The room had several windows in it with curtains adorning each. A canopy bed
stood in one corner while several other articles of furniture bedecked the room. Neva
sighed in defeat and entered the room.
         “Goodnight,” he muttered as he walked out the room.
         “Wait,” Neva said, “what can I call you?”
         “I don‟t care,” the man mumbled.
         “Oh come on. I‟ll make up something if you don‟t tell me anything,” she said.
         The man said with a strained voice, “Just call me Mikhail.”
         Then, he slammed the door behind him. Neva didn‟t hear any locking sound and
turned the knob to find it was unlocked. She merely hoped she was safe and let herself
fall asleep upon the large bed, hoping to awake in the morning.
         Neva opened her eyes and almost sighed in relief. She was still wary of the
situation however. She pulled the drapes aside and gazed out the window. She saw dry
desert fields in all directions. The land just nearby was thoroughly irrigated and green
with crops and vegetation. The sun was blindly bright as it hung vividly in the morning
sky. There was a rapid knocking upon her door.
         “Who is it?” she asked.
         “Seth and Thomas,” she heard in reply. Neva jumped up and ran to the door. She
opened it and let them in.
         She asked anxiously, “Are you two alright?”
         Thomas smiled and said, “Oh we‟re fine. A little disoriented and confused, but
we‟re alright.” Seth nodded in agreement.
         “Oh good,” Neva said relieved. “I haven‟t the faintest where we are or who these
people are. He said something about…well, I didn‟t really understand it.” Seth sat on the
window sill and looked out. His expression was gloomy and almost foreboding.
         “We‟re in the West Vampiric Sanctum,” he said. His eyes refused to meet Neva‟s.
“This place is out in the middle of the western wastelands of Liam. These guys have been
here for years and years. It‟s too far out for anyone to know about them. Do you know
what they do here?”
         “What do they do?” Neva asked, her voice almost trembling.
         Seth‟s eyes finally met Neva‟s as he answered, “Experimental human
development. These Vampires aren‟t at all like the normal beastly ones. They‟re smarter,
stronger, and faster, through years of experimenting with alchemy and unknown magicks.
It‟s all dark magic however. You‟ve been brought here because they wish to test on you.
We‟re here because we‟re the only ones who know…” His voice faltered he stopped
talking.
         “Know what?” Neva asked frantically. “Is it about my parents? Are they here?”
         “No…it‟s…” Seth couldn‟t find any words, and he peered out the window once
more.
          Just my luck, Neva thought bitterly. I’m stuck in the desert in this place with
Vampires that want to mutate me through magic. She almost laughed at it, but the deep
fear within her stopped the laughter before it reached her throat. The room grew silent,



                                                                                       83
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


and she was lost for any word or thought. The air in the room grew thick with tension,
and Neva sighed lightly. She kept her composure long enough to get out of the room.
        She ran down the long hallway covering her face. When she reached the room
with the pillar in the center, she kneeled down and began crying. For the first time in a
long while, she let the tears fall freely. She soon felt a hand grace her shoulder. Neva
looked up to find the man by the name of Mikhail standing above her.
        “Swordslinger, why do you break down like this?” he asked taking his hood off.
She saw his face for the first time. He looked like most Vampires do, black eyes and hair
with long canines. His face was more pleasant to look at than most.
        Neva shook her head sadly and said, “I don‟t know what to do. I‟m here in this
place…and I…”
        “Come, let us begin testing your capabilities against magicks,” he said. “That may
take your mind off things for some time.”
        Neva sighed and decided she had no other choice than to follow him. He led her
to a small room with a single chair in the middle of it. He nodded towards the chair, and
she nervously seated herself in it.
        She looked at him and asked, “What will happen to me?”
        “Don‟t worry, they won‟t do enough to hurt you. We‟re just going to see how
magic affects you. Then we‟ll attempt to enhance your physical and mental capabilities,”
he said calmly.
        Neva looked up at him nervously. His unmoving black eyes didn‟t soothe her any.
She yearned to be anywhere else than that room. Soon, three other Vampires entered and
mumbled lowly to each other.
        Then the nearest one began casting spells upon her. Flashing lights of red and
oranges were sent straight towards her. Each seemed to explode and die out just before
hitting her skin. She felt no pain as the spell continued. Neva watched the man look
towards the others surrounding him. She couldn‟t see his face because of the hood but
figured he didn‟t know what was happening. Another man stepped up and began casting
spells that glowed with a dull green, misty light. Before hitting her skin, it too faded out,
and Neva peered at the man inquisitively. The third man merely shook his head.
        “What is going on?” Neva heard Mikhail shout from behind her. He thrust his
hand forward and a bright bolt of lightening came forth. It burned Neva‟s neck severely
but caused no other damages. Mikhail let out a slight gasp.
        Neva shouted, “What in the hell was that for? You told me you weren‟t going to
hurt me.” She glared at him sternly.
        “That should have entirely pierced your skin,” he said in amazement. “I fear we
may have misjudged you. Well, I think that‟s enough testing for today. We‟ll continue in
three days.”
        Neva walked out of the room nursing her wounded neck. She came back to her
room to find both Thomas and Seth sleeping in it. They were seated in two chairs with
their heads drooping sideways. Neva prodded Seth awake and gave him a pitiful look.
        “Uh oh,” he said, “it‟s the look.”
        She said, “Look what that man, that Vampire did to me!” Neva took her hand off
her neck to reveal the long, shallow burn mark across her neck. He stared at it in
bewilderment.
        “That‟s a nasty wound there. Let me have a look at it,” Seth said. He laid Neva



                                                                                           84
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


down on the bed and inspected her neck closely. The sound of someone clearing his
throat took Seth by surprise. His hands slipped, and he almost fell on top of Neva.
        “Um, what are you two doing?” Neva heard Thomas ask. Neva pushed Seth off of
her and looked at Thomas.
        She said, “He‟s looking at my wound, for your information.”
        “Wound?” Thomas asked walking towards the bed. He peered at the seared tissue
on her slender jugular. “Why did they do that?”
        Neva replied somewhat hesitantly, “He told me he was testing and that he
wouldn‟t hurt me. Then, he sent this magic spell, like a lightening bolt, to my neck; it
burned me. He told me that it should have pierced my skin…”
        Seth peered at her curiously and inquired, “What else did they try doing to you?”
She described to him the other two spells she saw them perform on her. Neva related to
Seth the phenomenon of each dying out upon hitting her skin.
        “That‟s really odd. There must be something in your blood that can resist those
types of things. I‟ve never witnessed it myself though,” Seth said.
        Thomas merely peered at both of them inquisitively. Seth then worked on healing
her burns. The room grew silent as he healed. Neva let out a small sigh and stared at the
ceiling. She only wished she could be so far from where she was. Soon her neck was no
longing burning in pain. Her flesh was no longer black, just scarred.
        “That‟s a nice scar,” Thomas commented. She smiled and pulled up her shirt to
reveal the ones on her abdomen. “I stand corrected. Those are nice scars.”
        “What happened that time?” Seth asked.
        She grumbled, “Damned Lycan.” He nodded and seated himself at the window,
peering out.
        “I wonder how far it is to any city from here,” Seth said.
        Neva came to the window and looked out as well. The room was in a high level of
the sanctum and from the window could been seen quite a view. In the very distance,
there were large sand dunes.
        “Or to the next water source,” Neva said.
        Thomas stated firmly, “Neva, don‟t even think about it. There‟s no way it would
work. Not even you could make it work.”
        Seth peered at him and asked, “What? What was she thinking?”
        “I wasn‟t thinking of it, Thomas. I know it wouldn‟t work…without help,” she
said.
        Her mind was scouring the possibilities. If she made any alignments with the
Vampires at all, she‟d have their help. She really didn‟t want to befriend any of the
creatures unless it was necessary. Thomas let out a slight sigh and shook his head. Seth
merely peered at them wordlessly. The look on his face told Neva that he was lost.
        “Well, I‟m confused; I think I‟ll get back to our room, Thomas,” Seth said leaving
the room.
        Thomas shrugged and left the room as well. Neva was left in the room only with
her thoughts to accompany her. Even those were scattered and useless. She didn‟t know
what to do at all. She sat at her window sill and peered out the window. Neva‟s mind
carefully sorted through several ideas.
        Her eyes passed over the scenery made available to her through the dusty glass.
Before her was a land of white, parched soil and rock lain sprawled over rugged



                                                                                        85
Swordslinger                                                                       A.A. Yeargin


mountains and unleveled plains. The vegetation consisted of small brown shrubbery and
grasses. No trees stood for miles and miles in all directions. The sun fiercely reflected off
the white boulders embedded in the rocky terra. The few flowers that adorned the harsh
terrain were those budding upon nettles in the locale. The view was a depressing one, and
no plans came to her sharp mind as she thought. Then, a warm palm was laid upon her
shoulder.
        “Excuse me, ma‟am. Are you Neva?” a young Vampire asked.
        She turned around and saw a very handsome man. His dark eyes and hair shone
more brightly than those of the other Vampires. His voice had a foreign drawl to it as he
spoke softly.
        She replied, “That depends on who‟s asking.” He gave a laugh which seemed to
charm Neva.
        “Only one such as the Swordslinger would give such an astute reply. I deduce that
you truly are her. I am humbled,” he said looking directly into her steely eyes.
        Neva found herself blushing lightly. I really do have a weakness for charm, she
thought, which caused her to think about Hisao. He had always been right about things.
Neva felt as if he was the only one who truly knew her. Sometimes she‟d often think of
him as a brother, since neither knew their parents. The thought of parents stopped her
train of thought.
        “Well,” she said, “I must be on the guard for my identity. Though the robe really
does give it all away…” At this the young Vampire laughed once more. His eyes almost
seemed to hypnotize her. She didn‟t know what she was thinking. He’s a Vampire, Neva
thought. Nothing more than a beast. “What‟s your name?”
        “You may call me Armand,” he replied. A small smile spread across his lips. His
sharp canines were vivid protrusions as he grinned, which haunted Neva.
        She nodded and said, “Alright. Why have you come?”
        “That part is of my doing. My father feels that I need a little training. I feel that I
need to meet an extraordinary woman. Now, I come looking for you.” He gave a small
laugh in spite of himself. Neva smiled and felt herself blush slightly more.
        “I don‟t have my blades,” Neva said sadly. “Besides, I‟m nothing all too
extraordinary. I‟m a plain and simple villain stuck in this place.” His beautiful eyes
seemed to sympathize with her.
        “At least you‟ve been elsewhere,” he said as his eyes shifted downwards. “I‟m
destined to remain here for a long time. It‟s a curse to be a Vampire; it really is. I just
wish to be out with all the normal people, and live, and breathe. It‟s something I‟ve
wished to experience but never will…and you too are extraordinary.”
        His smile became wider as their eyes met. Neva felt an odd chemistry between
Armand and her. She didn‟t like the feeling though. She didn‟t think she could trust the
Vampires, but she had to admit that his charm was unmatched. She felt even Thomas
didn‟t meet Armand‟s charismatic skills. Neva was forced to admit to this.
        “If you say so…anyway, you say you‟ve never left this place?” Neva asked. She
wanted to get to know him. His character seemed to pique her interest.
        He sat next to her on the sill and said, “No, I am not allowed to leave. Where
would I go anyway? I am merely a Vampire. I know what we really are in the world, yet
my father and other brethren like to think otherwise. They really wish to change this
image. They‟ve made strides in the political field for peace among the races. Nothing has



                                                                                             86
Swordslinger                                                                 A.A. Yeargin


yet to come of avail to any significant degree unfortunately.”
        “Ah, I see,” she said in response. Neva took notice of the armor under his black
robe. His armor was black leather almost similar to hers, yet it was embedded with metal
bands.
        Armand said, “Anyway, about the training…I‟m sure there is something for both
of us to use for training. I‟m sure however that it won‟t match the elegance and fine
craftsmanship of your blades.”
        He nodded for her to follow him as he stood up. Armand slipped his hand into
hers cunningly as he led her down the hallway. Neva almost pulled her hand back in
disgust but saw his eyes shining at her. She didn‟t know whether she wanted to trust him.
He led her through the large, stone corridors to a beautiful courtyard. Neva noticed the
high walls surrounding it. Against the walls lay a few scattered weapons. There were
small battleaxes, a few longswords, and a mace. Armand picked up a longsword and
peered at her.
        “Well, you choose what you like,” he said. “I‟d like to know the basics, if you
would please.”
        Neva nodded and picked up a longsword herself. She took a brief moment to
glance over the craftsmanship. It wasn‟t as good as her old blade, but the blade was
sufficient. She turned to see Armand taking his robe off. She found that the cuirass he
was wearing revealed much of his brawny chest. Neva felt herself blushing as she slightly
turned.
        “Something wrong, Neva?” he asked, folding his robe.
        She managed to stutter through a contained grin, “Oh, erm, nothing. There‟s
nothing wrong at all.”
        He shrugged and smiled at her. Neva smiled in return as her eyes found his. Then,
she gathered herself together and began teaching him. Neva showed Armand the different
types of strokes and stances. She found that he was a very fast learner. Before she knew
it, Neva had lost her front and all consciousness that he was a Vampire. She felt so
comfortable around him. Then, as they were talking, the door to the courtyard slammed
open.
        “Son!” a man yelled. Armand turned even whiter than his pallid complexion
already was.
        He turned and said nervously, “Yes, father?”
        “What are you doing with this woman?” the Vampire demanded.
        “Father,” he said, “I‟m getting training just as you have said. This is the
Swordslinger. She‟s very good, sir. Please…”
        His father heaved a slight sigh and said, “Fine. I‟ll be talking to you later
however.”
        Armand nodded as his eyes fell to the ground. His father went back inside the
sanctum and slammed the doors behind him. Neva let out a small sigh and threw her
blade to the ground. She was tired of being scorned. She sat atop a stone bench and
closed her eyes.
        “Neva, are you alright?” he asked.
        She nodded and replied, “Yes, I‟m fine. I‟ll just head back to my room. I doubt
your father wants me teaching you anything.” He looked at her and shook his head sadly.
        “No…don‟t go. My father would like you to teach me. I am sure of it. He just



                                                                                       87
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


does not yet understand,” he said.
        She knew there was no way his father would accept her, especially from the past
experiences with Dave‟s father. The thought of him caused a streak of pain to immerse.
        She sighed and said, “I‟d like to go to my room…”
        Armand offered his hand and looked at her with his innocent eyes. Neva decided
to take it and rose from the bench. She knew he was a Vampire, yet he was so different.
She wondered if she really could trust him. As they walked down the halls back towards
her room, he gently laced his fingers with hers and smiled shyly. They finally reached the
room and he leaned in the doorway as she walked inside. Neva sat on the window sill and
then looked up at him. She smiled and invited him to sit next to her. Armand happily
seated himself next to her and looked out the window.
        “It‟s not much to look at, is it?” he said.
        Neva said, “Not really. I came from…well, I lived in a small town on hilly plains
for a long time. I‟ve seen much of the country, but then again there is much I haven‟t
seen. I have seen the mountains in the north and the Drelyte Ocean. I‟ve been to Helix
many times; that‟s where I trained.” He looked at her in wonder.
        Armand said, “Wow, I‟d like to hear about your training in Helix if I may.”
        Neva smiled and nodded. She told him all about training in Fort Derelict. He was
a good listener and was amazed with her story. He was more knowledgeable about the
world than she originally thought.
        “You‟re a remarkable woman,” Armand firmly stated.
        Neva smiled bashfully as she looked at him. She felt almost hypnotized by him.
His hands found hers and he gently caressed them. Slowly, Armand eased his head
towards hers. He wrapped his arms around her waist as she placed her arms around his
neck. Both of their foreheads were touching as he smoothly pressed his lips against hers.
        Neva, feeling in a state of unconsciousness, moved closer to him. She felt
consumed by his entire being and no other fiber of being within her refused. They were
both held in the moment of sweet, unsurpassable bliss. They pulled away slightly and
held each other close. As the sky turned to a light shade of pink, Armand finally released
Neva from his grasp. She sighed slightly as she fell away from the warmth of being in his
arms.
        “I‟m afraid I have to get going,” he said. “I‟ll see you sometime tomorrow
though, Neva. Have a nice evening.”
        Neva smiled slightly and replied, “I already have.”
        He laughed as he disappeared down the hallway. She pressed her head against the
window and thought to herself. This Vampire intrigues me, she thought. He’s different
than the others ones. Neva went to bed that night still thinking about what to do. She fell
asleep deep in the night. The next day was spent with Armand. She trained with him in
the courtyard for a long time and then he took her around the sanctum. It was as large as
Fort Derelict and a very elegant place overall.
        The next day was the day Neva was scheduled to be tested upon more. Three
Vampires came to her room very early in the day and woke her up. They led her to the
room she had been in for the previous testing. Neva nervously sat in the chair and
awaited what was to come. She remembered being scalded by the lightening bolt. Her
hand moved to the scar across her neck as Mikhail entered the room.
        “There she is. How are you today, Neva?” he said as he closed the door. She



                                                                                         88
Swordslinger                                                                       A.A. Yeargin


peered at him with slight scorn.
         Neva replied, “Seth has healed my burns, thank you very much.”
         “Ah, I see…well, that won‟t happen again. I assure you.” Mikhail said. The three
other Vampires prepared themselves. They moved around her and stood ready. She
peered at them nervously.
         “What exactly are you testing and why?” Neva asked.
         “This we‟ll reveal to you in good time, Neva. You need not worry about
anything,” he answered.
         Then, he nodded to the other Vampires and they began casting spells upon her.
Each dissipated before entering her body as before. The spells grew stronger yet never
inflicted anything upon her. Mikhail shook his head disapprovingly.
         He said in a hushed tone, “This is not good.”
         “She resists our magic…what can we do?” one Vampire said.
         “If she resists it then she can‟t be enhanced,” Mikhail said. “It will not do. I shall
have one more test upon her and if it fails…”
         The other Vampire exclaimed, “But sir! We can‟t have another event like
Acrolith…” The name seemed to jump out at her. She couldn‟t quite get a grasp on
where.
         “Who is Acrolith?” Neva asked.
         The only reply she got was four cold glares. She got up from her seat and left the
room without saying anything. She ran to the courtyard and sat upon the stone bench. She
placed her head in her hands and felt as if her world was coming apart one thread at a
time. As if he had read her mind, Armand appeared at her side. Merely his being seated
next to her was comforting.
         He asked, “What ails you, Neva?” Armand placed his arm around her, pulling her
towards him slightly.
         “These people…why are they doing these tests on me? I heard them say
something about enhancing and a man named Acrolith. That name is in my memory, but
I just can‟t recall the person…” Neva said. Armand stared at her silently.
         He asked, “Where did you hear the name Acrolith?”
         “The Vampires,” she answered, “said, „We can‟t have another event like
Acrolith.‟”
         “The fools…” Armand said through gritted teeth.
         She said, “What do you mean? What are they talking about?” Neva grabbed his
arm, almost fearing the answer.
         Without replying, he stood and vanished inside. Neva was left sitting clueless in
the sunny courtyard. Then, she began thinking. She didn‟t want to know what would
happen after the last test. She knew that it would fail and wondered what they had done to
the man named Acrolith. She made her way to the library of the sanctum and scanned
through numerous history books. As she poured through the ancient knowledge, someone
ripped the book out of her hand. Neva looked up to find Mikhail standing above her
looking unhappy.
         “Oh, Neva. Must we always make a nuisance of ourselves?” he said in such a
plain tone that it was alarming.
         She replied wryly, “Me? Nope. How about you?” He slammed the book down on
the table and glared at her.



                                                                                            89
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         “Neva…” he stopped himself. “This is no laughing matter. I suggest you
straighten up or we‟ll exile you from here.” Neva rose from her chair and looked the
Vampire straight in the eyes.
         She stated firmly, “This is exile.”
         Neva snatched the book from his hand and fled to her room. She sat by the
window sill and read. Her thoughts kept her from reading the book however. Neva
wondered why Mikhail trailed off like he did when speaking to her. He was a very
articulate and precise man, and losing track of his words was something he never did. She
grew curious about him. Neva decided that she, along with Seth and Thomas, needed to
escape. She headed to their room and knocked on the door.
         “What?” she heard Thomas yell.
         Neva yelled back in her „Chris‟ voice, “Don‟t back-sass me, Lowet.” She heard
Seth laughing as Thomas opened the door.
         Thomas said, “I thought I‟d never hear that voice again. Anyway, where have you
been? You weren‟t around yesterday, and today you were testing I hear.”
         “Oh…uh, yesterday I looked around the sanctum. Anyway, I need to talk to you
two,” she said as she closed the door. Seth raised a brow and sat in a chair by the
window. Thomas sat on the edge of one of the beds.
         Neva said, “Okay, I have the feeling we need to get out of here, all of us. My
testing today, well, failed. They‟re not happy, and they‟re going to do one more test. If it
fails…I‟m afraid of what they‟ll do to me.”
         “I don‟t know Neva…” Thomas said.
         “Well, there may be a way out, Thomas. I think it‟d be better than sitting in this
Vampire hole just waiting for death,” Seth put in quietly. Thomas nodded in agreement
and looked up at Neva for any ideas. She leaned up against the wall and thought for a
moment.
         “If only I had my horse, or any horse for that matter, then it would be easier to
escape,” she said as she thought. “We could supply on water heavily. I just don‟t know
how far it is to another water source. That‟s the key to surviving the Liam Wastelands.”
         “They have a camel stable below ground, and the Smart One here says there‟s a
map room just before it. I‟m sure we could get in there and stay long enough to study the
maps,” Thomas said pacing nervously by the window. Neva quickly formed a plan.
         She said, “I‟ve a plan, but I shan‟t say it here. We‟ll see the map room the day
before my last test, and I will tell of it then.”
         She left their room and went to find Mikhail. Neva made her way down the hall
and to the testing room. She opened up the door to the back of the room and found him
sitting at his desk. He was writing reports rapidly.
         “What is it, Swordslinger?” Mikhail asked hardly taking his eyes off his work.
         Neva leaned against the doorway and said, “You try my patience just as much as I
try yours, Mikhail. I‟d like to know when my next testing is.”
         He answered with a slight sigh, “It will be the day after tomorrow.”
         Then, as she looked into his cold eyes, Neva felt a burning feeling of rage. Her
inner being had the strong sensation to kill the man standing before her. She grabbed the
steel-tipped writing stylus from his desk.
         “Too bad you won‟t live till then…” she said darkly.
         He looked up at her curiously. Before he could make a move, Neva jammed the



                                                                                          90
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


stylus into his pale jugular. Then, she jumped over his desk and snapped his neck before
he could let out a scream. She peered over his work as the body slipped off the chair and
onto the floor. She read what he had written. Neva has been slightly uncooperative with
the processes. They have been unsuccessful however. The magic does not penetrate her
skin. There is ultimately one cause. Before she could find what the cause was, someone
had grabbed her from behind. A large hand was clamped tightly over her mouth, and an
arm was forcefully holding her by the waist.
        A deep voice whispered into her ear, “You‟re one smart, young bitch. Come on.”
        The man pulled her roughly into a dark room below the testing room. There were
two large chairs and a desk. On the desk there were assorted pictures and maps. A
fireplace glowed grimly in the corner of the room. The man walked over to it and threw a
bucket of water upon it. The fire hissed loudly and emitted smoke as it died out.
        “Now,” the man said, “why did you kill the Vampire?” Neva remained silent. She
wasn‟t going to speak to the man under any circumstances. She attempted to peer at him
through the darkness, but she could hardly make out his form. She sat in the chair and
stared into the infinite darkness around her silently.
        He said, “Not talking? There‟s ways to make you talk. I can think of one good one
right now. You‟re like your mother.” Neva gave a small gasp. “I see this interests you.”
        She demanded, “What do you know about her?” The man laughed deeply in his
throat.
        “I know many things. I am not here to converse with you about your mother
however. I‟m not supposed to be here…or even alive,” he said coldly.
        Neva inquired hotly, “Then why are you here? You‟re surely wasting my time. I
know you‟re not about to punish me for killing that Vampire, for I doubt you care.”
        He laughed once more as he said, “Him? I don‟t care if you kill a thousand. It just
clears up some room for other better races of the Liam populace. I have come on account
of you. I am giving you a warning.”
        “Which is…?” Neva said. She wished she could look upon the man‟s face. She
didn‟t know to whom she was talking to.
        “Your death will come soon. You‟re just lucky I can‟t kill you now…” he said
darkly. Neva almost thought it a joke.
        She asked him, “Have you been sent by Lord James?”
        The man scoffed loudly as he replied, “Of course not, I am my own sender.
Besides, Lord James is too scared too go after you anyway. I‟d say the man was
frightened of you.”
        “Then why can‟t you kill me now?” she inquired.
        Without an answer the fireplace was relit, illuminating the room, and the man was
nowhere to be seen. She let out a small sigh as she made her way out of the room. She
decided that night would be the night to escape. Neva sat in her room thinking as she
formed a plan. A small knocking upon the door disrupted her train of thought. She
opened the door to find Armand.
        “Ah, hello Armand. You‟re just the fellow I need right now,” Neva said happily.
        He perked a brow and said, “Oh? What might one so amiable as yourself be
needing with me?”
        She laughed and said, “I‟m not in need of anything in that direction.” He frowned
slightly but remained listening. “I need you to help my friends and I escape. You‟re the



                                                                                        91
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


only one I can trust. You could come too. I know you want to see the world…” Armand
looked up at her with shining eyes.
         “You really think I could come?” he asked excitedly. Neva nodded in reply.
Armand threw his arms around her and kissed her cheek. He hugged her tightly as he
smiled brightly.
         She said, “First, we‟ll need a good supply of water and a map. I figure we‟ll steal
a few camels from the stables and escape by heading to near water sources. I‟d need you
to help me by making sure no Vampires come down to the stables. Then, you can come
with us and finally see the world.”
         “I would do that for you without a second thought, Neva,” he replied. “I know
most of the nearby layout myself.”
         Neva and Armand spent a small amount of time making plans. Then, Neva
headed for her two friends‟ room as Armand prepared a number of camels with water
supplies.
         Neva opened the door without knocking and urgently whispered, “Hey, let‟s get
out of here.”
         Seth and Thomas looked at her briefly before jumping up. They scattered around
the room getting a few things and followed her down the hallway. Rosy light cascaded
out the windows and into the rooms they passed. The sun was near setting as they made
their way to the stables. Neva slipped into the map room and found a few maps of the
Wastelands. She snatched them and made a run for the stables. Neva opened the heavy
barn door only to find that it was completely empty.
         “They left,” she heard Armand say. He appeared from behind a large stack of hay.
         Neva said, “What? Where are the other camels?”
         “There are no others, I‟m afraid. They took the last two. Don‟t worry about them.
I assure you they are heavily supplied,” Armand replied.
         “What about me?” she exclaimed, “I need to get out of here. I thought you wanted
to as well.” She peered at him silently. His eyes were placid and the rest of him seemed to
follow that suit.
         “I do want to leave. I know, however, I would not be welcome in your world. I‟m
sorry that you cannot leave. There were just not enough camels,” he said in a flat, almost
indifferent tone.
         Neva sighed lowly and made her way back up to her room. She sat at the window
sill as small tears formed. In the far distance she saw two camels slowly making their
way towards the northern horizon. She stared out the window until the darkness made it
impossible to see anymore. Neva fell asleep sitting at the window sill. It was sometime
during the night when two Vampires abruptly awoke her.
         “Get up!” one demanded.
         “You‟re out of here, missy. You‟ve killed one of our brethren, helped prisoners
escape, and failed all tests of enhancing you. The Master has decided on getting rid of
you.”
         The other told her as they pulled her to her feet. She groggily rubbed her eyes, and
they placed shackles at her feel and ropes at her waist. Each took an end and led her
through the sanctum. They took her outside to where four Vampires mounted upon
camels stood waiting. Two camels without riders stood beside them.
         Neva turned and asked them, “Where are you taking me?”



                                                                                          92
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


         “Someplace far from here. If you make it there, we‟ll just kill you then,” one
replied. The six Vampires laughed heartily as Neva glared at them.
         Then, the two mounted their camels and dragged her behind them. She was forced
to walk behind them while they rode the camels. The desert grew cold with the night. She
marched behind the six Vampires through the scrubby nettles at her feet. As she thought,
Neva remembered what the man had told her. He told me my death would be soon, she
thought. I fear that this may be it. She didn‟t fear death itself. Neva feared the idea of
regret welling up in her. There were so many things she regretted, yet none she could
ever change.
         Into the rugged desert they pulled her. Neva weakly stumbled over rocks and
brush. The sun was beginning to rise, and she feared what it would bring. The sun rose
stiffly over the barren landscape and set the world on fire. The sand glowed brightly
under Neva‟s feet as the rays of sun burned her face fiercely. Her legs began to sting with
pain as she strode up the numerous dunes. The sweat upon her face continually dripped
down her face unmercifully. Neva‟s eyes grew slightly blurred as the blinding white light
reflected off the white sand. The Vampires continually forced her keep moving.
         It continued for two and a half long days. Neva was sick from lack of water and
the long days in the harsh sun had taken its toll on her. She felt close to death yet so far
away. There were moments she wished she had died long ago. Her will was the only
thing she had left with her. They led her to the top of a large cliff. As she looked down,
she saw a vast sea of shining blue waters below her. It was surrounded by large, steep
cliffs. To the north side she spotted a narrow pass in the cliffs. She dizzily stared down at
the water lapping rhythmically against the rock.
         Then, there was a white flash just before her. Armand appeared just in front of
her. She glared at him coldly.
         “Ah, the Swordslinger. I think those at the sanctum will be very pleased at your
death…as will I,” he said smiling darkly.
         Neva averted her eyes to the ground and replied, “I shame myself to think I could
trust you, Armand. I thought you were different. I thought you actually liked me.”
         “No, no,” Armand said, “I really did like you, Neva. You are an amazing woman,
and I do admit I was, well, captivated. However, my trust has and will always lie with the
Master and my brethren. You are his failure, and you have killed one of my brethren. For
this your execution is necessary, my dear.”
         He brought his lips to hers briefly before she quickly pulled her face away in
disgust. She felt more disgust in herself though. Behind her, the Vampires tied her arms
together in the ropes and then tightened her shackles.
         He grabbed a hold of her and whispered, “Goodbye Neva.”
         With a forceful shove, Neva was sent off the edge of the cliff. She closed her eyes
and let herself fall into the blue waters that were to be her grave. Her last thought before
hitting the water was brief but strong. I cannot die just yet. She attempted slipping from
the ropes but found they were tautly knotted. Her efforts to swim failed as she sunk
lower.
         Then, a blade came whipping into the water and cut her bonds. She swam to the
surface and gasped for air. As she did two arrows came whizzing towards her head. The
Vampires atop the cliff had their bows drawn. She wondered if the cutting of the ropes
was an accident or not. Neva ducked down under the water quickly to avoid the arrows.



                                                                                           93
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


A well-aimed shot pierced her lower back. A cold trickling feeling overwhelmed her as
she felt the poison enter her bloodstream. The world, which she had tried so hard to cling
onto, faded from view and she fell deeper into the water.
         An unknown voice had softly awakened her saying, “The Thorned Rose of Liam.
What an honor.” Neva felt warmth from the unknown man‟s arms. Her wet robe chilled
her. She opened her eyes but only found herself in a dark cavern. Neva could hear water
lapping up beside her.
         “I‟m glad to see you‟re conscious finally. I came right in time, though almost too
late,” the man said to her. Neva couldn‟t quit make out whose voice the man‟s was. She
merely sat staring into the darkness, feeling his warmth.
         She managed to mumble weakly, “You…were you the one who cut the ropes?”
         “Yes, I cut them,” he answered. “After you had gotten hit with that arrow, I dived
in for you. The Vampires think you are dead.”
         “Who are you?” Neva asked. There was a short pause.
         The man finally told her, “Just a Faithful Admirer out to save his heroine.” She
almost laughed at this but found her mouth very dry. Her throat burned with the bad taste
of salt. She managed a small grin.
         She inquired, “So I‟ve finally met the mysterious one. What‟s your name?”
         “That I cannot say, not yet at least,” he said.
         “Could I at least know how you managed to find out about my plan to save
Hisao?” Neva said.
         The man replied, “Ah, that was just some good listening. Sometimes there are
ears where you least expect them.”
         She wondered if he was one of the soldiers at Seth‟s house. Perhaps he was
listening at the door. She silently thought to herself as she began falling asleep. She felt a
light kiss upon her cheek as the man wrapped a soft blanket around her.
         “Sleep now. I‟ll watch over you,” he said softly.
         Though she didn‟t know the man, she felt comfort at his presence being beside
her. A sharp pain in her ear abruptly awoke her from her peaceful slumber. She turned to
find Barbados biting her ears. Neva smiled and stoked the bird‟s graceful head. She was
so happy to see him again.
         Then, she turned to look for the man only to find that he wasn‟t there. Neva
frowned slightly as she peered around the cave. There was a small fire near the entrance
of the cave. A bag of supplies sat next to the fire with a note. She read the note on the
bag. Please use these. I hope I will see you again soon. Your horse is indeed a bright one.
He almost seemed to know I was looking for you. Poor fellow must have missed you. Take
care. As always, Your Faithful Admirer. Neva ran outside to find Silverwave biting at the
leaves on a bush.
         “Oh Silver…” she sighed happily.
         His ears perked up, and he came running towards Neva. He placed his nose in her
hand and nickered lowly. Neva grabbed the bag as she put out the fire. As she strode
towards Silverwave, she noticed a set of hoof prints that were too large to be her horse‟s.
She peered at them curiously. Then, she mounted her stallion and rode away from the sea
and all the Vampires. She felt happy to be free and alive. The man had saved her life, and
she was grateful towards that. Neva only wished she knew to whom she was thankful
though.



                                                                                           94
Swordslinger                                                                      A.A. Yeargin


         As she rode, she found that she didn‟t know where she even was. When they
marched her, she was barely conscious of her surroundings. She rode through the narrow
pass in the cliffs and headed east. Soon, the land went from rocks and sand to grass. Neva
began to recognize hills that made the terrain of central Liam. She began wondering
where Thomas and Seth were. She hoped they had made it out of the desert. A small fear
dwelled inside her that they were dead. She merely hoped for their safety as she rode.
         Before she realized, Neva found herself atop the hill that overlooked Piliad. As
she looked down, she found the town was in complete ruin. She gaped at the smoking
rubble in horror. The plumes of smoke drifted hazily into the night sky. She jumped off
of Silverwave and ran down the hill. She passed fields littered with dead goats. Neva
called out to any possible survivor. The only reply was the sound of the wind whistling
through the empty town coldly.
         She came to the temple of saints to find that it was the only thing intact. It seemed
to be untouched. She sat upon the steps and placed her head in her hands. She heard
something approach her right side. Neva found it was a silver wolf sitting beside her. He
looked up at her with sympathetic eyes. She gently patted its large head as he sat.
         A voice came from within the temple saying, “Neva, you‟re still alive? I‟d have
thought those Vampires were at least smart enough to execute you. I was mistaken.”
         “Kill me now, then. I haven‟t any blade nor will to fight,” she said sadly.
         He laughed slightly and replied, “No, I am not going to kill you. For I know that
as of this moment, life is more the punishment.” She shook her head sadly, knowing that
the man was right. She recognized the voice as the man she had come across in the
Vampire sanctum.
         “What happened to this place?” Neva asked him.
         “Didn‟t you know?” he asked. “There‟s a war raging right now.”
         “What?” she asked in shock.
         The man replied, “Yes. The Lycans, joined with Canutes and Rebels, are fighting
those under Cervantes, which happens to be the guards and Vampires.”
         “James Cervantes…?” Neva inquired.
         The man appeared from the shadows of the statues in the temple. He had blonde
hair and shining blue eyes. The man leaned on a column with a slight sneer on his face.
He appeared to be in his early forties. He was well equipped with blades and other
weaponry imaginable. Neva started to get up but he shook his head.
         “Don‟t be off just yet, Neva. I‟ve got a proposition for you,” he said.
         She replied quickly, “I‟ll only hear it if you tell me your name.”
         “Ah, such a bold negotiator. My name…is Nikolai Acrolith,” the man said.
         Neva gave a slight gasp. She remembered the tale of Yomi and Nikolai. He didn‟t
look like a dark mage. She figured that his angelic appearance must have been what made
him so devilish. Yet another one of life’s small, wicked ironies, she thought.
         “Yes, shocking. Now, what I need from you is to lead the Lycans to victory in this
war. I know you have the prowess. I want to make those who took my daughter away
from me pay. They took her and changed her for the worse.” The man peered at Neva
intently.
         “What will I get in return?” she asked.
         He smiled widely, “I have in my possession the book that contains your parents‟
lives. If you win the war with the Lycans, Rebels, and Canutes, I will give you this



                                                                                           95
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


book.”
         Neva looked at him curiously and said, “How do I know it‟s really my parents?
That book could so easily be two strangers whom you say are my parents just for profit.
Which brings another point, how do I know that you do have it?”
         “How shrewd…” Nikolai commented. “I am an honest man. I may have the
reputation of a villain, though does that truly mean I am one? My killings were all
completely justified.” She quickly came to the realization that he must have killed
Captain Balks.
         “You…you killed Captain Balks then,” she said.
         He replied, “I had to.”
         “Why?” she yelled. “Why is it so important that you hide my parents‟ identity?”
         Nikolai glared at her coldly and said, “I am giving you the chance now. Take it or
leave it, Neva.”
         “Alright, I‟ll try…” she said sighing.
         “Good,” he said.
         She turned and asked just before leaving, “Could you at least tell me where I was
born?”
         “Right here in this temple, I believe,” Nikolai said grinning.
         Then, he disappeared into the shadows. Neva stood and started going down the
steps. The silver wolf by her feet whined slightly. She patted its head and then walked
into the darkness. As she walked, a bright green light flashed behind her. Neva spun
around and found Fritchel sitting on the steps where the wolf had. She realized it wasn‟t a
wolf but a Lycan. In the darkness, she couldn‟t see the difference.
         “Mage…” she said.
         Fritchel grinned slightly and said, “So the Swordslinger will be the leader of our
army? Hah, wait until my father hears of this.” His blue eyes seemed to gaze at her
scornfully as he laughed. Her grey eyes glared at him coldly.
         “Watch your tongue Lycan,” Neva mumbled threateningly.
         “Of course, General Swordslinger.” He broke into fits of laughter. “Alright, come
on. I‟ll take you to my father. He‟s currently head of the Lycans. I think you‟ll be
pleasantly surprised by who else is there.”
         Fritchel rose to his feet and offered his arm. Neva hesitantly took it. Immediately,
there was a white flash, and she began to feel the same disorientation as when she
traveled with the Vampires. When her vision cleared she found she was in a large cavern.
Lycans roamed the entire place. Some were in human form while others were in their true
forms. Neva had no idea there was so many Lycans. Among the masses, there were small
groups of human guards and Canutes. She saw that many of the guards were ones from
Fort Witherfroth. A large, grey Lycan approached her.
         “Father! Look and see who Acrolith chose as the leader of our forces!” Fritchel
laughed slightly. “A villain.” The grey Lycan smiled and looked at Neva.
         “It‟s perfect. That man is surely an intelligent one,” he said.
         “What?” Fritchel exclaimed. “She‟s a villain!”
         “Son, she‟s more than that and you know it. Please pay no heed to my son‟s
ignorant behavior. It‟s such a pleasure to see you, Neva. I haven‟t seen you since you
were a baby. My name is Julius Harthyung,” the grey Lycan said politely.
         Neva looked at him in shock and said, “You…you saw me when I was a baby?”



                                                                                           96
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


        “Yes,” Julius answered, “I watched over your cradle when you were alone in the
temple, after taking you away from the Deltas. I saw the man come along and decided
that‟s where you needed to be.”
        She remembered the grey wolf from her dream a long time ago. Neva guessed it
was him. Julius then led her through the large room to another room. There was a table
with several chairs.
        “Seat yourself here and I‟ll get the others,” he said. Fritchel walked in and seated
himself opposite of Neva. A deep scowl was etched into his face. After a moment, Julius
returned with Thomas, Seth, Alazondra, and Hisao behind him. Smiles passed between
each as they saw Neva, while she grinned widely.
        “You‟re alive!” Seth and Thomas shouted. After a long series of hugs and
chattering, everyone was seated at the table.
        Neva asked, “So what are you all doing here?”
        “Well,” Hisao said, “we‟re all head of specific forces in this army. Those two
head the rebel guards, Alazondra is head of the Lycans, and I am in charge of the
Canutes.”
        “You in charge? The world certainly is changing.” Neva said laughing. Hisao
scowled at her slightly then smiled. Julius laughed slightly and seated himself at the table.
        He said, “So far they‟ve been quite successful. Their combined strategies have
pushed those bastards to the far edge of the Plainlands. Acrolith has chosen you as the
leader of all of our forces. I couldn‟t imagine anyone better myself.” Fritchel scoffed
loudly at this comment.
        “I should be in charge, Father. I‟m much more reliable than that villain,” he said
sourly.
        Julius raised a brow and said, “If you honestly think you could best Neva in
combat, give her a blade and do so right now.” Fritchel fell silent and averted his eyes to
the table. “That‟s what I thought.”
        Neva said incredulously, “You‟re putting me in charge of the entire army?” Julius
nodded as Thomas, Seth, Alazondra, and Hisao cheered.
        “It‟s nice to have another female to talk to now. These guys drive me insane!”
Alazondra exclaimed.
        Neva laughed and said, “I know the feeling.”
        The three men glared at Neva before laughing themselves. They began talking of
different battle strategies. She found out that much had occurred since she was in the
Vampire sanctum. Through the long night, they planned and negotiated. When the
morning came, each leader was ready for battle. Neva was slightly anxious about
becoming the leader of all the forces, but she knew she‟d lead them to victory at the end
of the day, perhaps a very long day.

                                    [Two Years’ War]

       Neva was sent to the armory within the cavern. She carefully picked through
numerous armor plates of various types. She settled with a chain mail cuirass, leather
gauntlets, and a full steel helmet. Then, she peered over several blades. Neva chose a
number of small throwing daggers, two longswords, and a crossbow. She hadn‟t used a
crossbow since training, but she knew it would be essential to use during battle. She



                                                                                          97
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


bundled her gear together and made her way back to the large meeting room. Thomas
was sitting at the table alone. He was leaning back in his chair drinking.
        “Hey Neva, I wanted to know exactly what happened from when we left until
Fritchel took you here,” he said. Neva related to him the events that had passed. Then she
asked him about his ventures of escaping the sanctum.
        Thomas said, “That Armand fellow sure is odd. He was quite nice to us. He let us
use the camels, the maps, and a good supply of food and water. He told us how to get out
of the desert oasis by oasis. He didn‟t lie one bit, for we went to each one. Seth and I
really didn‟t have much of an adventure. We made it out of the desert and were making
our way to Helix from the south. Then, we met Anne—that‟s Alazondra‟s real name. She
told us about what was going on. We immediately decided to help, and I‟m here now in
charge of all the other rebel guards.”
        “Hmm, I see,” Neva said.
        “You know,” Thomas said, “I just thought of something. You seem to escape
death a lot. I mean, of all the close calls you‟ve told me about. Let‟s see, there‟s when
you first ran away from training and you were almost shot by crossbows, then the Lycan
attacked you, there was that assassin or something that could have killed you in
Witherfroth, and Vampires. It‟s a wonder you‟re still alive. I bet the Gods find it amusing
watching you escape death all the time, like a game.”
        “I don‟t do it alone,” she said thinking back.
        He shrugged and said, “Still.”
        Neva replied, “Yeah, it‟s better than dying.” She sat down and grabbed the drink
from his hands. Silently she sat drinking it and wondering exactly why she was still alive.
        “You should get some rest. I can tell you‟re stressed. I think the hospitality wing
may be full. We might have to, you know, double up,” he said.
        She scoffed and replied, “I‟d sooner double up with a dead pig.” Neva took a
large swig of the drink. “Say what is this?”
        “It‟s some brandy that the Canutes drink. It‟s rather strong don‟t you think?”
Thomas said. Neva nodded and passed it back to him.
         They talked for sometime, drinking happily. They felt like they were young kids
back at Piliad again. Neva really missed the carefree feeling. After a number of drinks,
Neva blacked out from the world.
        Neva awoke to the sound of a man‟s snoring and the feel of warm breathing down
her neck. She found a large arm wrapped around her waist. She turned to find Thomas
sleeping beside her. Neva rolled out of his grasp startled. She was on a large bed in a
small cave room. She had no recollection of ever coming in the room.
        “What the…?” she mumbled. Thomas stirred slightly and opened his eyes. He
stretched and peered at Neva.
        He said, “Well, mornin‟. How are you?”
        “Dazed and disoriented. You?” Neva replied.
        “I‟m good. You should be thanking me. You got yourself plenty drunk last night,
and I did the gentleman thing by taking you to bed. I also made sure you slept well.”
        She scoffed and replied, “By sleeping in the same bed, you old swindler. Thanks.”
She gave him a hug.
        “Anytime, really. I mean why not do it again tonight?” Thomas said with a grin.
His hand slid across Neva‟s lower backside briefly. She sent a right hook to his jaw.



                                                                                         98
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


         Neva said, “It‟s fine really. Anyway, we can‟t do it again tonight because we have
a battle to win, a foe to defeat, and a hell of a time to be had. Let‟s get ready.”
         Thomas laughed and began equipping his armor. Neva quickly placed her armor
on. She found Julius as she left the small cave room. He was in his human form. Julius
was a very wise-looking man, vaguely reminding her of Father Crowe. He looked older
with a slight frailty to him, yet she knew his looks were quite deceiving.
         “Someone‟s ready for battle,” he chuckled.
         She replied, “Yes sir. There will need to be others ready for battle as well.”
         “It is already so. I have quite a number awaiting your arrival. I‟ll lead you out of
here,” he said.
         She followed him to the entrance of the large cavern. The entrance was a small
one and very covertly hidden. She found that it was in a clearing within the Harthyung
Forest. Outside were thousands of Lycans, Canutes, and soldiers crowding around
amongst the trees. They were saddling horses and sharpening weapons or claws. She
found Hisao leaning against a tree. They conversed briefly, and she met a number of the
fighters beneath him. Then, as if by magic, she found Silverwave drinking from a small
creek and perched atop his head was none other than Barbados.
         Neva walked over and petted her stallion, “You never cease to amaze me, fellow.
You always know where to find me.”
         The horse gently nickered and nuzzled her hand softly. She quickly mounted him
and stroked Barbados‟s slim figure as she headed towards the forces. They all appeared
to be ready to move. She felt anxious as all eyes were directed towards her.
         “Well everyone, I think it‟s time for us to shove off. Our campaign will take us to
the Carrick coast. We‟ll follow it as long as we can. Then, travel across the Plainlands to
rid it of them. Soon after we‟ll split the forces up and take Helix from two sides. Let‟s go
send some bastards to hell!” Neva yelled enthusiastically. There came cheers from the
Lycans and humans. The Canutes remained motionless as they peered at her. She looked
at them.
         “Why exactly do we have to take orders from a human?” a dark-looking Canute
asked.
         She answered, “Because, to my understanding, Nikolai wants me to.”
         “Him…I grow weary of taking orders from him,” the Canute replied. “I‟ve heard
of you, Swordslinger. You‟re naught but a villain.”
         “Rebellious swine,” she said coldly, “take your orders and carry them out. That is
all I ask. Even try to defy me and you‟ll be sent on your merry way to the grim gate faster
than you can blink an eye. I suggest you keep your fanged mouth shut until spoken to
because no one wants to hear your cheek.”
         “Swine?” he yelled. “I wonder what pigs sired a wench like you!”
         All of a sudden, murmuring broke out through the crowd. Then, a man in a cloak
erupted from the bushes. He immediately began beating the Canute with a club. Then,
after the Canute was knocked down, the man walked away. Neva could hear from the
whispering that the man was Nikolai. I wonder if he’s so bad after all, she thought.
Maybe his reputation is a false one, like me.
         “Now that we have an understanding of each other. Who‟s going to follow me to
Hell?”
         All ten thousand fighters hollered exuberantly in return. Alazondra, Thomas, Seth,



                                                                                          99
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


and Hisao took their places beside Neva. The forces followed behind them on foot and
horse. Alazondra helped to navigate them out of the forest, and they marched southward
down the eastern coast. The march continued for days as the army snaked their way
through the cliffs by the ocean. The expected swarms of Vampires were never found
however. They only passed ghost villages completely void of people.
         While making camp for the night, Hisao said to Neva, “I don‟t like this. There
should be Vampires all along here. I have a bad feeling they are all waiting for us, in
large numbers.”
         The fire before them crackled and snapped in the silence as Neva thought. The
last thing she wanted was a surprise attack. She looked out to the army before her. Men,
women, Canutes, and Lycans of various ages were sprawled out in the rocks. They were
joking around fires, sharpening blades, and sleeping. She wanted to protect them all.
         “We‟ll have to keep wary eyes out. That‟s simply all we can do,” she replied.
         “Alright, if you say. Anyway, I came to show you something,” Hisao whispered.
He motioned for her to follow. Neva stood up and started after him. The two briskly
walked off into the night. Nestled in a group of trees was a small, dilapidated home. Neva
peered at it curiously as she continued to follow Hisao.
         He said as they walked up to the house, “This is where I used to live with the
hermit, and this is where I hid all of our money.”
         She laughed and said, “Well, that‟s interesting. I‟m sure there‟s nothing left by
now.” Hisao grinned slyly and led her into the house. Numerous sacks of coinage sat
upon the hutches and tables in the room.
         “We have hardly spent any of it, and this is how I was able to come here and
return instantly,” he said, holding up a small silver amulet.
         A small diamond was embedded in a silver figurine of a bear. The silver seemed
to glow with an unnatural white tint. “It‟s enchanted to bring me here and send me back
from where I came. I remember the old hermit had told me that I could return here
whenever I wanted.” He heaved a small sigh and peered at the amulet in his hand.
         “All I‟ve ever wanted is to actually be welcome somewhere, that and a parent‟s
affection,” Neva said sadly.
         Hisao whispered, “Me too, pal.”
         Then, for the first time since she had known the Canute, Hisao hugged her. They
stood silently in the still house. Moonlight beamed through the broken windows, casting
forlorn-looking shadows upon the dusty, wooden floor. Neva thought of Hisao as a
brother. The blood running in their veins couldn‟t be more different, but the pain they
shared formed a bond between the two stronger than any.
         As Neva began to leave the house, Hisao asked, “What do we do with all the
money?”
         “Leave it,” she replied. “Let some wanderer find it, and be it unknown to him that
the money was all for nothing. For in my eyes, the money hasn‟t the value of the metal
it‟s minted upon.” Hisao nodded understandingly as he followed her out of the house.
         The next day they met a band of Vampires. Their count merely totaled
approximately five hundred. The fight was over almost as soon as it had begun.
         “I hate the smell of Vampires,” Hisao commented. “It smells just like death but in
a sickening way. Damned creatures…”
         Seth said, “I guess I‟m lucky I can‟t smell as well then.”



                                                                                        100
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


         “Indeed,” Hisao replied.
         As they continued, the five leaders conversed with each other about the war.
Neither had any clue as to how long it would last. Thomas thought it would last under a
year, while Alazondra and Neva figured the war wouldn‟t end in less than a year. Hisao
and Seth remained out of the argument, with good reason.
         The days began growing short and cold. The winter was coming on, and they
were farther than they all assumed that they would be in the war. As the chill of the
season came on, the morale began dropping. The fighters were not confident that the
battles ahead would be successful. Some doubted the occurrence of any battles. Neva
continued to lead the contingent through the wintry breeze. As they marched through the
Plainlands, they came across the ruins that once were Fort Dover.
         Alazondra sighed and said, “I remember seeing this when it was first destroyed.”
Neva peered at the broken towers and rubble lying scattered. The stones were weathered
and broken. The frigid air whistled through the crumbled fort remnants as each of the five
leaders stared. Then, Hisao jerked his horse back. There was a look of alarm on his face.
         “What is it?” Neva asked.
         “Vampires! I can smell them, lots of them. Take cover!” he yelled.
         Neva signaled for the army to move back and take cover. However, in the plains,
there was little chance of cover. Immediately, a volley of arrows came whizzing from the
ruins. Followed after were dozens of volleys. Neva cursed and took cover behind a small
shrub. She took the cross bow off of her back and jammed a bolt into it. She peered
through the shrub‟s foliage for a target.
         There she saw scores of Vampires dashing through the destroyed city, either
bringing arrows or firing them. She fired the crossbow at a Vampire standing atop a large
boulder. The bolt was sent through his neck, and she felled him.
         Neva was in the midst of reloading the crossbow when three arrows came ripping
through the shrub she had been hiding behind. She cursed and shifted to a further
location. She ordered that the human guards fall back and use their crossbows to counter
the Vampires‟ assault. The others were only good in the case of hand-to-hand combat, so
she took no risks with the Lycans and Canutes. The day lasted long, but the volleys of
arrows never completely stopped.
         Soon, the entirety of the army was overwhelmed with exhaustion, and she was
forced to retreat eastwards. They made a camp, and she decided to keep a watch herself.
The chilly winds blew as she kept her line of sight focused in the dim light of the moon.
A guard walked up to her and placed a cloak around her.
         “I think you need this, ma‟am,” he said. She peered at the man as she pulled the
cloak closer. She recognized him as John.
         Neva smiled and said, “Thanks, John. Good show today. We‟ll send these
bastards to hell for good in no time.”
         “Thanks. I think so too, ma‟am,” he said. “I‟ll be over here if you need to be
relieved anytime tonight.”
         Neva nodded and returned to watching the western horizon for any trace of
movement. The winds began blowing fiercely and she pulled the hood on the cloak over
her head. The winter was coming on strong. The last thing Neva wanted was an ill
militia, but she wanted to continue their campaign. She knew they wanted to continue as
well. Her thoughts were interrupted by a man grabbing her. A blade was pressed to her



                                                                                       101
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


throat roughly.
        “Tell me where to find the leader of this army,” a gruff voice said.
        She replied sneering, “Not if you ask like that I won‟t.”
        “Tell me where to find Neva or die, vermin,” he said sternly.
        “She‟s sleeping,” Neva lied. “She won‟t be in any condition for the likes of you.”
        The man said, “Bring me to her and I won‟t kill you.” Nervously, she walked
through the multitudes of sleeping fighters. She found John asleep and kicked him
roughly in the stomach as she passed.
        “Where is Neva, hmm?” she said peering over the crowd. “Oh, I know…” Neva
jammed both her elbows into his ribcage and he doubled over. He grunted in pain and
lunged at her.
        “John!” she yelled. Immediately, John appeared between Neva and the attacker.
John ran his blade through the man‟s stomach. He withdrew it and the corpse slumped to
the ground bodily.
        She said gratefully, “You‟re a lifesaver, pal.”
        “What was that all about?” he asked wiping his blade clean.
        “Hell if I know. That man was looking for me for some reason though,” Neva
replied.
        “We‟ll need to increase our ranks of security,” John said. “We don‟t need you
getting killed by some damn assassin.”
        “I suppose so,” she said sighing.
        At John‟s bidding, she crawled into bed and began sleeping. The next morning
she arose to fight a long day‟s battle. The Vampires had received reinforcements of
guards during the night. The fighters of her army seemed ready for action.
        For the next three weeks, the two armies constantly fought. On the last day, Neva
led her fighters into straight into the ruins of Fort Dover. They decimated the Vampiric
army. The human guards of the enemy army surrendered their weapons afterwards.
        “Shall we execute them?” a young Lycan asked.
        Neva couldn‟t find it in her heart to have them killed. The guards kneeling before
her were young. It was obvious they had just come out of training, for their armor was
new and their skill was lacking. Their fearful eyes searched her.
        Neva said, “No. Let‟s make these ruins a prison before moving forwards. We‟ll
leave a few to guard it.” The enemy guards at her feet sighed in relief as she spoke the
words.
        Through the day, they worked hard to make the old ruins into a makeshift prison.
The next three days were spent upon this task. Once accomplished, Neva left several
dozen soldiers to guard the numerous prisoners. Then, she led her army onwards. As they
marched, they encountered small troupes of Vampires. The army made fast work of them.
        Soon, the army grew weary and cold from the winter. Neva didn‟t think they
would hold out for very long. Using Barbados, she sent a message to Julius for
reinforcements. He had sent her a few thousand more humans, Canutes, and Lycans.
Neva never knew exactly how hidden the races really were from each other. She found
out from a Lycan that there were approximately half a million Lycans lived in the
expansive Harthyung. Hisao guessed that the Canutes, of all sorts, numbered close to a
quarter million. She figured that the war was of an important cause. Millions of beings
depended upon survival in Liam.



                                                                                      102
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


        Neva led her army onwards into the hills just past the Plainlands. She was
constantly on the lookout for any hiding Vampires. They did not find any hiding amongst
the hills as they traveled. The spirits of the army were slowly dropping. They had not
fought much and the winter wasn‟t any more pleasant to them. The only ones not
complaining were the Lycans, for they were accustomed to harsh cold. She made strong
attempts to keep her army in high morale. One night while camping, things only grew
worse for her. Thomas, Seth, and Neva were seated around a campfire.
        “Where‟s Alazondra?” Thomas asked.
        Neva replied, “Sleeping.” Thomas nodded as he took a swig of his drink.
        “Could I perhaps interest you in some, Neva?” he asked with an unpleasant grin.
        “Oh, you be quiet, Lowboy,” she said glaring. Thomas peered at her with a look
of injured innocence.
        “Wha-what?” he sputtered. “I said absolutely nothing rude! I was just asking if
you wanted any because I know you like it. That‟s all. I see how it is now though. I‟ll just
have to drink the rest of it all by myself.”
        She looked up at him. As he put the bottle to his lips, Neva snatched it from him
and began drinking. He grinned evilly at her as she drank.
        “You‟re evil,” she commented.
        Thomas winked and whispered, “You know it.” Seth laughed at the two. Neva
peered at the stars twinkling overhead. The luminous, bright moon seemed to glower
down upon her. A dark feeling seemed to edge into her as she stared at it. Seems odd, she
thought, that something usually being so beautiful can be so ominous. She simply shook
her head and took another drink. She averted her eyes to the lively fire before her.
        Then, Thomas said, “Hmm, you know I once asked Jeremy—” In an instant Seth
jumped from his seat and shoved Thomas aside.
        “Look out!” he yelled. Before Neva knew it, Thomas was thrown back and there
was an arrow in Seth‟s neck.
        Thomas yelled, “What the hell was that?”
        “Seth!” Neva yelled.
        Several Lycans nearby perked their ears up and peered at the commotion. A few
Canutes scrambled into the area. Neva immediately kneeled down by Seth and shook
him. She put a hand over his mouth and placed her ear to his chest.
        “He‟s not breathing, and…his heart‟s stopped…” she said sadly.
        Neva shook her head and examined the arrow in his neck. The tip was made of
black obsidian, and the shaft was of good quality. There were also black scorch marks
upon where the arrow entered and where it protruded in the back of his neck from the
arrow‟s enchantments. A single tear slipped down her cheek before she laid her head
down upon Seth‟s lifeless chest and cried. Behind her, two Canutes and a guard ran up.
        “Oh shit,” she heard one Canute whisper. Then, she heard them start to walk off.
        “Gentleman,” she said in a low voice, “if you know anything at all as to why this
occurred, I‟d like to know.”
        “What? Us?” the other Canute asked.
        The guard said, “We came to see what the commotion was about. We‟ll leave you
now. Our apologies.”
        “Go then,” she mumbled. She knew they were lying, but she was in no state to
interrogate her soldiers. She heard the three retreat, but a fourth soldier approached her.



                                                                                         103
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


Then, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Neva looked up to find John standing behind her.
         “Neva, I think you should get some rest,” he said. Thomas stepped up behind her
and nodded.
         Thomas said in a low tone, “I‟ll take care of his body.” Neva nodded and looked
at Seth. I can’t believe he’s dead, she thought. Just a minute ago he was laughing. He
was laughing and alive. Then, she thought of the ominous feeling she previously had.
This is only the beginning of things to come.
         “Goodbye Seth,” she whispered as she stroked his cheek, growing pale with
death. John helped her up and to her blankets.
         As John pulled them up to her shoulder, she mumbled, “He‟s gone.”
         “I understand what it‟s like, ma‟am. I lost my brother at a young age,” John said
before walking away.
         Neva rolled over, but sleep would not come. Only unanswered questions came to
her that night. Why would someone kill him? Was the killer an enemy? No answers could
come to her, and it all remained a horrible mystery. The next morning she awoke only
worse than the night before.
         “Well,” Thomas said, “don‟t you think we should move on?”
         “He was like a brother to me, Thomas. Do you think I can move on right now?”
she replied. Thomas didn‟t reply but merely sighed. As she thought, something dawned
upon her. Neva gasped aloud.
         “It‟s entirely my fault!” she yelled. “How could I be so blind to this?” She buried
her head in her hands and shook her head.
         “What? It wasn‟t your fault,” Thomas said.
         “It‟s my fault. He…he knew about my parents, remember? They finally got him.”
She paused and then looked at Thomas. “He didn‟t tell you anything, did he? Oh please
tell me he didn‟t.”
         Thomas replied, “He didn‟t, honest. I don‟t know if that‟s it. If you remember, he
was pushing me out of the way of the arrow. It would be my fault, Neva.”
         “What if the killer knew he would do that though? What if he simply had bad
aim?” she asked despairingly.
         He hugged her and then said, “Neva, calm down. We could ask ourselves „what
if‟ all day, but that‟s not going to help. Seth wouldn‟t want you crying about it. Seth
would want you to be strong for him.” Neva sighed and nodded. She got up and mounted
her horse. Neva began directing her horse forwards and then turned him around.
         “What are you doing?” Thomas asked.
         She looked at him and said, “Seth died right here.” Thomas heaved a sigh and
looked down at his reins momentarily. Then, he looked up at her again.
         “Please Neva,” he said.
         “Listen to me,” Neva said. “He died right here, right?”
         “Yes,” he answered, still unsure of her intentions.
         She mumbled to herself for a moment as she pulled her horse into a small circle.
Silverwave‟s hips swiveled around swiftly, and Neva peered up at the surrounding hills.
         “The arrow came in from this angle,” she said as she pointed to her neck. “The
arrow should have come from there.” Neva pointed to a hill across from them. She
immediately directed her horse into a gallop and ran up to the said location. Thomas
followed after her. There they found large horse‟s prints in the dirt. Neva followed them



                                                                                         104
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


until it led into rock.
         “Damn, no way to track him there,” she mumbled.
         Thomas yelled, “Look at these! That guy must have had a big horse.” Neva
nodded and peered around the area. There were no other signs of him.
         “Well, we should carry on then. There is nothing else here,” she said sadly.
         As they traveled down the road with the army trailing, Alazondra rode up next to
them, “Hey Neva. I‟m really sorry about Seth. It‟s awful.” Then after her came Hisao.
         “Yeah, me too,” he said.
         Neva heaved a small sigh and replied, “Yeah, Father Crowe once said, „We must
endure our sorrows, and carry them upon our back like great beasts of burden. Lo, always
know that the sun will rise the next day.‟ I will do such.”
         Hisao asked, “So, have any ideas of who it might have been?”
         “Hmm,” she said, “I don‟t know. All I do know is that he has a big horse and a
good aim with a bow. He might be a Vampire.” Then, she thought about the obsidian
arrowhead.
         “That would make sense,” Thomas commented.
         “The arrow tip was…obsidian. It was also enchanted,” Neva said.
         Thomas said, “Well, I don‟t know much about enchanting, but obsidian comes
from volcanic activity, right?”
         “That‟s right,” Hisao answered, “but there are no active volcanoes in all of Liam.
The obsidian would have been imported.”
         “And with good reason, too. Obsidian can make for nice arrowheads,” Thomas
informed. Neva nodded at the two.
         “Well, I know a little about enchanting. Fritchel is an enchanter, and he‟s told me
some things,” Alazondra said quietly.
         “What do you know?” Neva asked.
         Alazondra replied, “It takes someone of good skill to enchant weapons. Amulets
and clothing in general, he told me, are pretty easily enchanted. Some weapons have a
more complex makeup and therefore are harder to enchant. It takes a soul of a living
thing, be it animal or human, and an elemental type of spell, like ice, fire, or even a
lightening spell. That‟s the basics.”
         Neva smiled at her and nodded. She peered at Hisao and Thomas to find they had
rather perplexed looks on their faces. Alazondra is a really bright person, Neva thought.
It’s no wonder she’s the incarnate of Rolath.
         “The Vampires at the sanctum were good Mages. They had been doing magic for
years and years. I would suppose at least some of them would be enchanters. As far as
importing the obsidian, I‟m sure they‟d be smart enough to find a way,” Neva said.
         “Hmm, so we have at least narrowed it down to the fact that the killer was a
Vampire now, but the problem is which Vampire it was,” Hisao said.
         Neva‟s mind thought of all the Vampires she knew personally. She remembered
Armand and Mikhail. She had killed Mikhail, but Armand could possibly have done it.
There’s so damned many, she thought, naming one would be so hard. Then, finding that
one would be just…impossible.
         “There‟s too many. I don‟t know,” she said sighing lightly.
         They continued on their way in silence. Neva battled with her thoughts as they
traveled onwards. There was one major fort left to defeat. She was thankful that Fort



                                                                                         105
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


Derelict had remained untouched by both sides. It would have been a difficult position to
both defend and attack. The last fort was on the edge of the Wastelands. It was called
Fort Redemption. Neva knew that where she was headed was far from redemption.
        She led over fifteen thousand fighters through the hills. She ordered her long
ranged forces to remain in the hills. Then, Neva led the others forward. She ordered them
to wait and they nestled themselves in the shrubbery. She stealthily snuck towards the
north wall. She could hear the voices of the enemy speaking atop the battlements.
        “Damn it all, I just want to get home. I don‟t want to fight anyone,” one man
complained.
        Another immediately reprimanded him saying, “Oh shut up. We can‟t let the
beasts take over.”
        “What about those Vampires?” the first one asked.
        “No one asked you,” a Vampire hissed at him. The second man laughed.
        The first one then inquired in a hushed tone, “Why did James ally with these
creatures? Honestly, I think they are none better than Lycans.”
        “They‟re strong, and they can put down those rebelling idiots and cretins,” the
other man replied.
        Neva had heard enough, and finally snuck away silently. She waited until the sun
had sunken low behind the wasteland plains to attack the fort. She led her army to the
gates. Once there, she commanded the long range to attack Fort Redemption from its
eastern wall, where they would expect an attack.
        While the volleys of arrows viciously rained down upon the front side of the
fortress, she led her men to the south side. They threw hooked rope-ladders up the walls
and began climbing them. A great deal of soldiers had reached inside Fort Redemption
before they were seen. The remaining men were directed to keep watch at all the gates.
Neva climbed up the last rope-ladder and knocked it down before she left. She sprinted
down the battlements. Then, she slid down a ladder agilely. She decided upon going
inside the fort to find their armory first. Next, she would kill whoever was leading.
        Armored guards and Vampires were running about in a fury throughout the fort.
Neva stuck to the shadows and remained unnoticed by many passersby. Those that did
notice her blur only ended up with a slit throat within seconds. She could see many
soldiers doing likewise. Others stuck together in numbers and took down several foes at
once.
        After only minutes of fighting and sneaking, Neva was inside the fort. Finding the
armory was not a difficult task. The architectural structure of Fort Redemption was not
suited for warfare or defense against internal infiltration. The armory was located to the
very front of the fort. She entered and grabbed a torch off the wall. There was one
Vampire in there. He grabbed a mace off the wall and ran towards her.
        Neva quickly picked up small blade and threw it at him as he ran forward. It was
swiftly planted into his unprotected chest. The Vampire fell backwards onto a spiked
chest plate lying on the ground. She slightly grimaced at the carnage but kept her mind to
her task. She broke barrels and laid the wood around all the armor. Then, Neva lit it all
the pieces on fire. There became a circle of flame around it all. As she left, she torched
the doors to prevent anyone else from getting any weapons.
        She made her way through the fort, constantly searching for the leader. Then, she
made her way up the stairs. Neva came to a well-furnished throne room. At the window



                                                                                       106
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


stood Lord James Cervantes. He was rubbing his chin and glaring at the fighting below.
        “Why don‟t you get out there and help fight with your men, Cervantes?” Neva
asked menacingly. She slammed the door shut behind her. Neva didn‟t want him
escaping anywhere.
        Lord James perked a brow and said, “Well, if it isn‟t the villain now…I was just
thinking about how you disgust me.”
        “Hmm, you seem rather cheeky for someone who‟s losing this war,” she said.
Then, she unsheathed her blade.
        “You dare challenge a Lord?” he asked. “You have some nerve, Swordslinger.”
He unsheathed his blade as well.
        Neva replied, “I wasn‟t aware it was a Lord I was challenging. Hmm, and I doubt
this will be much of a challenge anyway.”
        James glared at her angrily before rushing at her with his blade. Neva thrust hers
forward and parried his attack. She could feel the strength of his blows and realized she
had underestimated her opponent. He sent a blow to her shoulder that she wasn‟t strong
enough to counter. She was knocked to the floor, and her blade was sent clattering to the
other side of the room. She grunted in pain as she pulled out her other blade. Its red fire
glowed brightly as she unsheathed it. James stuck downwards with his weapon. Neva
used both hands to block the attack. With a swift wrist, James‟ weapon hand took a deep,
burning gash, and he dropped his weapon.
        She was about to send her blade into his chest when he painfully kicked her arm.
The force of the blow sent her arm crashing painfully to the wooden floor. Her arm
seemed to sever from her injured shoulder. Neva cursed loudly at James as she feebly
reached for her blade. Agonizingly, she grabbed the blade and thrust it into his stomach.
The fire burned his skin, giving off an unpleasant odor. James howled loudly in sheer
pain. The sickening, burnt flesh was blackened immediately.
        She pulled it out, and James fumbled backwards grabbing at his stomach. She
hoisted herself to her feet, using the sword like a cane. Then, Neva pressed it to Lord
James‟s neck as he backed up. Then, he was up against the open window. He looked out
it and then back at her.
        “I would rather kill myself than die at your hands wench,” he said coldly.
        Before Neva could move, Lord James pushed himself out the window. Neva
watched in shock as he fell to his death. Vermillion carnage exploded from his cranium
as he made contact with the ground. Several men down below stopped and looked at the
dead leader. Neva slammed the window shut and ran through the fort.
        She sprinted down the steps and past the blazing inferno that was the armory.
Neva found his corpse outside. The men outside looked at her in fear. Then, they all
kneeled before her. Many of her soldiers began cheering. Neva looked at the body with a
blank expression. That may have been the leader, she thought, but the war’s not over yet.
        All that night while her soldiers put the enemies into the prisons at Fort
Redemption, her thoughts rage inside of her. Two Canutes bandaged her wounds and
demanded that she get rest. She could only think about how Lord James had killed
himself. His cold words echoed in her head. Neva had seen so much death before, yet his
death had struck her oddly. She couldn‟t forget his body falling and hitting the ground.
She couldn‟t forget about what she heard and what she saw. It all stayed with her.
        Then, she realized that he was Dave‟s father. She didn‟t know how she could tell



                                                                                        107
Swordslinger                                                                  A.A. Yeargin


him. Neva didn‟t want to tell him about how she attacked his father and caused his death.
She didn‟t want him to know that his father jumped out of a window. But he has to know,
she thought. Neva sent an anonymous note to Dave using Barbados, telling him his father
was dead. She wondered where Dave was. Neva didn‟t know if he was part of his father‟s
army or not. She merely hoped that he wasn‟t.
         The next morning Neva attempted to move her forces onwards. They refused to
go on until she was in a better condition, physically and emotionally. She knew they
could see she was stressed and affected by all the death, but she sorely wanted to
continue. She and her army stayed at Fort Redemption for about a week before moving
out. Neva convinced them she was better. She was good at lying, but she didn‟t like it.
         “What about Helix?” she asked. “Are they going to try there?”
         Hisao replied, “No. I hear that it has remained shut away. They sealed all the
gates just last month. The citizens there were rather…hostile to the Vampires. Lord
Cervantes was forced to move out.”
         “I see. Where next should we head then?” she asked. There was a pause.
         Alazondra said, “Where else? The most likely place the Vampires would be.”
         Both Thomas and Neva replied, “The Wastelands.” She smiled and nodded.
         Neva led the army through the desert wastelands of Liam with some
apprehension. She knew that this would be the biggest battle yet. The Vampire
headquarters was here, and they knew the terrain well. Neva remembered being dragged
through it bitterly. She shoved the memories aside and put on a brave face as she led
thirteen thousand men, Lycans, and Canutes forward. Then, in the horizon a large black
shape took form. It was moving closer to them as they moved closer to it.
         “That must be the other army,” Thomas mumbled. “It‟s huge.”
         Neva turned in her seat and peered at everyone before her. They all looked ready
to make the kill. Fangs and claws were brought forth, swords were unsheathed, and
vicious snarls echoed in the empty, dry plains. A wind began stirring which picked up
sand and tossed it aimlessly. Then, as she peered forwards at the oncoming army, the dry
heat suddenly felt cold to her. A light shiver was sent down her spine as she urged her
horse forwards. Silverwave jogged swiftly with his tail held high. I wish I was as
confident as that, Neva thought.
         Slowly, the two forces came closer and closer. The very air of the desert was
filled with a deadly silence. The silence was filled with hatred. As the unmerciful sun
grew high in the sky, the front ranks of each of the armies lined up. They were within
mere countable yards of each other. The Lycans, Vampires and Canutes could smell each
other. Growling and snarling were still sounding off in the background along with the
hollow sound of the wind. Neva looked at all the men and Vampires of the opposing
forces.
         She realized that she had no idea why these people were fighting. Hatred perhaps,
she thought. She didn‟t understand the hatred though. Neva was merely put in charge of
this entire army. The war was between the races. She was of no part in this hatred but
only deepening it with war and violence. Conquering one race would not prove anything.
Many think that victory is killing all the enemies, Neva thought. What about learning to
live in peace? Would that not be the real victory for everyone?
         She realized how selfish she had been her whole life. Neva killed for sport,
money, and fame. She took it too far and became a villain. She did it because she was



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Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


unsure of her future and chose something without thinking first. If I live, she thought, I’m
going to dedicate my life to righting my wrongs. Then, as she had come upon this small
epiphany, the leader of the opposing army yelled something. It brought her to focus upon
the task at hand.
        Behind her a young Lycan yelled, “Let‟s kill „em, Neva!”
        “Death to the Vampires!” a Canute yelled.
        She looked at the two armies. Neva couldn‟t bring herself to lead the army a step
forward. Her inner being seemed to quiver with fear as the ones behind her encouraged
her to rush forward and kill. Her will to slay another being was gone. She looked up at
the opposing army once more. Then, she saw who was leading them. Dave was seated
valiantly on his grey mare. She dismounted Silverwave and stepped forward a few paces.
        “What is she doing?” Thomas whispered. “Someone should do something.” He
started to move forward, but Alazondra yanked him back.
        “No, I think she‟s going to make the right decision for us all here,” she said.
        Thomas, as well as the numerous around, kept his eyes on Neva as she moved.
Neva walked forward three more steps before stopping. Dave looked at her and
dismounted his horse. They stared at each other as if trying to exchange thoughts. Then,
Dave nodded his head as he placed a hand on his weapon. Neva placed her hands on her
blades at her waist.
        Simultaneously, they unsheathed them and threw them to the ground. Loud gasps
and growls sounded in immediate response to the actions. The empty desert that was once
silent became filled with the dull roar of low whispering.
        “Neva!” Dave yelled.
        They both ran towards each other. Dave opened his arms and caught her as they
collided. There they were, in between two opposing armies in desolate wastelands,
embracing each other. The surrounding ones fell silent for several moments. Never before
in the long history of Liam had a leader given up the opportunity to slay an opponent.
The leader of Liam had never fallen in love with a villain before either. As the two
slightly pulled away from each other, the observing crowd began to cheer. The sound of
metal striking the sand reverberated through the Wastelands. Dave held up one arm as he
placed the other around Neva‟s waist.
        “Today is the end of the Two Years‟ War!” he declared. “Let there be peace
between every race. Within the month, racial charters will be issued! I‟d like for new
beginnings to form all throughout Liam! Let us now depart, good people.”
        Cheers once again broke out between the two armies. Neva smiled as she looked
at everyone. Alazondra and Hisao came running up to Neva.
        “This is great, Neva. I‟m so glad you made the right decision,” she said happily.
        Hisao said, “Yeah, let‟s just hope everyone else thinks so too.”
        Dave replied, “I‟m sure they will. It‟s no secret that they‟ve hated each other for
years on end. I think it‟s a worn out hate by now. I‟m just glad we stopped it in time.”
They all nodded in agreement.
        “Where‟d Thomas go?” Neva asked.
        Alazondra answered, “I think he went to go celebrate with the other guards.”
        “Figures,” Hisao said. They laughed slightly. Neva whistled and Silverwave came
running towards her. She jumped on his back and began to ride away.
        “Wait!” Dave yelled. “Where are you going?”



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Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


         “We have some prisoners where Fort Dover used to be. I think they‟d like to
know that they‟re free to go,” Neva said with a smile. “Alazondra, would you go to Fort
Redemption for me?” Alazondra smiled and nodded.
         “Meet me in Helix in a week and a half,” Dave said. “I‟m going to hold a counsel,
and I‟d like you there.”
         She nodded and rode off. Neva felt freedom once again. As soon as she had
fought through the masses of people, she kicked Silverwave in the sides, and he jumped
to a gallop. She sped through the hills and plains within a few days‟ time. Silverwave
trotted across the Dover Bridge. Then, Neva dismounted and ran into the makeshift
prison. Two Canutes were standing outside.
         “Look! It‟s Neva!” one shouted.
         The other yelled to her, “What‟s going on?” She ran up to them and took a quick
breath.
         “War‟s over boys!” she said.
         “We won?” a Lycan said as he came out the door.
         She replied, “No, it came to a peaceful resolution.” They all smiled and let out a
loud yells.
         “Free the prisoners!” she yelled as she walked back towards Silverwave, who had
begun to graze. She mounted him and rode towards Helix. As she traveled, she passed a
village that was destroyed from the war. Several men were working to rebuild it. It’s my
fault that village is like that, she thought. Then, she stopped and approached them. Two
of them ran off as she did. The rest stared at her in fright.
         “I‟m not here to hurt anyone,” she said. “I wanted to know if you needed any help
in your village.”
         “Uh, what?” one of the men said.
         “Well,” an elder said, “we sure could use an extra set of hands.”
         A young child looked up at him and said, “Grandpa, she‟s a villain!”
         “I know child, but she wants to help,” he replied as he patted the young child‟s
head. Neva immediately began working with them. She helped them for three days. For
the first day, none of them dared even look at her. On the last two days they began to
warm up to her.
         “Well, the village looks great now,” she commented.
         A man said coyly, “Thanks, uh, Neva.”
         She nodded to him and smiled. Then, she turned and left the village. As she made
her way to Helix, she came across more villages, and she helped them repair the damages
from the war. It took her twice as long to get to Helix. It took her about two and a half
weeks. As she entered the city, Vampires, Lycans, humans, and Canutes were in the city
in masses and droves. They were mixed unlike ever before. She forced her way through
the crowds and into Fort Derelict. The gates were open and the guards at the gate gave
her no worry.
         As she looked around at the fort, she saw it was almost the same. Lycans were
patrolling some of the areas now, and Neva saw young Canutes and Vampires out on the
training field running alongside humans. She smiled to herself as she saw how happy it
all seemed. Then, she saw Thomas walk up to her.
         “Hey Neva,” he greeted.
         “Hello Thomas,” Neva replied with a grin. “Everything‟s so different, isn‟t it?”



                                                                                        110
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


        He nodded and answered, “Yes, it is. Where have you been? Lord Dave‟s been
wondering where you were. You were supposed to be here for the counsel.”
        “Oh, yes. Well, along my way I helped out some villages that had been destroyed
by the war,” she said.
        “How charitable,” Thomas said stiffly. “Well, you should go talk to him, because
I‟m tired of him asking me all the time.”
        She nodded and made her way to the nobles‟ quarters. There a Vampire stood
outside the door of the fort. He looked up at her and recognized her immediately.
        “Oh, ma‟am. It‟s you. Allow me to lead you in,” he said. She smiled and nodded
as he led her through the halls of Fort Derelict.
        The Vampire commented, “Your presence was expected about a week ago at the
counsel.”
        “Things came up,” she replied as he opened the door that led to the nobles‟
quarters.
        He bowed to her, and Neva walked inside. She heard the low murmur of voices
down the hall. She walked in the direction of the noise. It led to her to the dining room
where several men, including Dave, were seated. Each had a glass of wine, and papers
were scattered about the long table. Neva came to the doorway and cleared her throat.
There was a pause between all the men. Dave pushed his glasses higher upon the brim of
his nose and peered up at her.
        “Neva!” he exclaimed.
        “Hey,” she greeted. He stood and rushed to her.
        Dave took her hands in his as he asked, “Where have you been?” Seeing his soft
brown eyes made her smile.
        “Well, along the way I came across destroyed villages. I just didn‟t have the heart
to leave them to do all the work, which the war had caused,” she answered.
        He laughed slightly and replied, “Haha. Of course. Come and have a seat with us.
We were just discussing more ideas for the racial charter.”
        Dave offered a chair next to the one he had been seated in. Neva sat and peered
around at all the men. There were Lycans, Canutes, Vampires, and humans all seated
together. A few Vampires wore the hood and cloaks she had seen in the sanctum. She
leaned back in her chair and placed her feet upon the table as she looked around. Then, as
silence began filling the room, Neva thought she heard the sound of a man chuckling
deep in his throat. She shook her head guessing it was in her mind.
        “Now, let‟s get back to what you were saying, Friar Montez,” Dave said breaking
the silence. A pale man who looked as if he had seen his share of years stood.
        The friar cleared his throat and said, “Well, I think that we should also pay
attention to not just the races as a whole but to the individual classes of races.”
        “How do you mean?” a dark looking man asked.
        A middle-aged Lycan answered, “Well, there are two major Lycan clans for
example. There are the Alphas, who make up the majority, and there are also the Deltas.
We all know they are ruthless and quite uncivilized.”
        “I see,” Dave said as he scratched away at some paper with an ink stylus. He
slowly bobbed his head up and down to indicate listening as the men spoke.
        An elderly Canute sitting aside Neva handed her paper and a stylus and
whispered, “You should take notes too.” She peered at the paper and frowned slightly.



                                                                                        111
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


Then, she picked up the stylus and began drawing random objects. Soon, she began
blocking out what the men were saying, just like in class with Father Crowe. Then,
something caught her attention.
        “I think that‟s a logical idea,” a Lycan said in agreement to some idea presented
by Dave. Neva set her stylus down and looked up as a Vampire in a robe stood up.
        “I disagree. I doubt Vampires and Canutes are even willing to cooperate like that.
Am I right, Jemil?” the Vampire asked, indicating a young Canute seated across from
him. The Canute scowled at him unpleasantly. Dave sighed as he rubbed his forehead.
        “Armand, would you just listen to what we‟re saying now? Comment when I ask
for them, please,” he said. Neva intensely looked at the Vampire standing.
        “Pardon me, Dave. Did you say…Armand?” Neva asked.
        He peered at her and answered, “Yes, Neva. His name is Armand. Now…”
        “Wait a minute,” Neva interrupted. Dave impatiently looked up at the ceiling and
rubbed his eyes.
        “What Neva?” he said.
        She looked at the Vampire and said, “Take off your hood, Armand.” She heard
him laugh deeply in his throat.
        “We‟re wasting time,” Dave said to Neva.
        “No we‟re not,” she replied. “Just trust me.”
        “Fine, fine,” he said. “Armand, would you please just take off your hood so we
can continue.”
        Armand stood motionless for a moment before reaching up and taking off his
hood. It was the Armand she had known from the sanctum. His handsome, yet sneering,
face peered at her. She lunged across the table and grabbed his neck with both hands.
        “Die! Burn in Hell you damned, vile beast!” she yelled loudly. Her curses echoed
through the entire room. Five Lycans jumped out of their seats and pulled Neva off of
Armand. She angrily pulled and tugged to attack him again. Armand posed a look of
injured innocence as he wiped off his bleeding lip.
        He said quietly, “I…I never did anything…” He dramatically sniffed and sat
down in his chair. He buried his head in his hands. Neva knew it was to hide his grin. She
could just see the smirk he was hiding.
        “Neva, I don‟t want to kick out of this counsel, but I will if I must,” Dave said.
        She shouted, “You don‟t understand.”
        A friar shook his head at her and said, “Missy, we‟ll have no racial comments like
that. You were one who wanted peace. I‟d like for you to apologize to this young man
here.”
        Neva shook her head defiantly.
        Dave sighed and said, “Okay. Get her out of here then. Neva, if you can control
yourself, you can sit at the edge of the doorway. If not, get to your room at the end of the
hall.” She glared at him in disgust and shock.
        “You are treating me like…like I‟m some child,” she said.
        “I‟m sorry Neva,” Dave replied as he shrugged.
        She heard the silent chuckling that she had heard before. She wanted nothing else
than to kill Armand. She walked out of the dining hall and to the guest room she had
stayed in previously. She closed the door and lay on a bench on the balcony. The sun was
just beginning to set. Then, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.



                                                                                         112
Swordslinger                                                                       A.A. Yeargin


        She was woken by Armand himself sometime during the night. He was standing
over her glaring at her coldly. She could see his sharp canines as he sneered. He hissed
loudly and slapped her. Before she could retaliate, he grabbed her wrists.
        “Why the hell are you alive, bitch?” he asked callously. She raised her leg and
swiftly kicked him in the abdomen. He was sent backwards a few feet. She unsheathed
her blade and pressed it to his neck.
        She pressed the blade further as she replied, “Because, you can‟t kill me that
easily.”
        “Obviously not,” he said. “I underestimated you, Neva.”
        “Obviously so,” she said mockingly. He growled lowly.
        Then, Armand smiled charmingly and said, “Now with this new era of peace
dawning upon. Let‟s start fresh. What do you say? You liked me well enough before…”
She grimaced at the thought.
        “You tried killing me you slimy bastard. You betrayed me,” Neva said.
        “So I did. And I do regret hurting such a beautiful—”
        “Stay your lying, deceitful tongue, heathen! I‟m going to kill you!” she yelled.
Then, there came the sound of someone clearing his throat behind her.
        “Once a villain, always a villain,” a guard said. “Come on, Swordslinger. You‟re
coming with us.”
        “What?”
        “Stop,” Dave said. He walked up from behind the guard. “I heard it all. Armand,
you‟ve been lying, I know it. We have to take you to the prisons.”
        “You would believe this villain‟s word over mine?” Armand said.
        Dave looked at Neva and replied, “What villain?” The Vampire glared at Dave as
the guard grabbed him by both arms and pulled him away. Neva sheathed her blade and
smiled at Dave. He frowned as his eyes met hers.
        “Oh, I‟m sorry Neva. I was so horrible to you. I…” Dave said.
        “It‟s alright. I‟ll forgive you if you just explain to the counsel what the truth is,”
she said. He smiled brightly and took her hand.
        “Speaking of, I‟d like you to come back. We‟re about to close out for the night,”
he said. He led her down the hall and into the large room. All the men looked up at Neva
as she entered. They stared at her silently.
        Dave stood at the head of the table and said, “The Vampire named Armand will
not be returning to our counsel. He is not the man we thought him to be. I apologize for
this. Neva has helped me to see this. We should thank her.” A few cheers came from the
men. She smiled half-heartedly. Then, Dave placed an arm around her shoulder and
pulled her close.
        “Now,” he said, “I have something I‟d like to say, or well, uh, ask you, erm,
Neva.” She looked up at him. He took her hand and looked her directly in the eyes. His
face turned a shade of scarlet as he asked, “Would you marry me?”
        Her eyes opened widely as she heard the words, and the men at the table began
whispering excitedly. She thought in slight alarm, Marry? He’s a lord and he wants to
marry me? What should I say? I guess I do really like him. Do I love him? She honestly
couldn‟t say.
        Dave smiled at her and said, “I‟ll give you all the time you need to think. I‟d wait
forever for you, Neva. I love you.” Neva smiled happily and kissed his cheek.



                                                                                           113
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         “Well,” he said, “you all are dismissed until tomorrow.” Dave walked back with
Neva to her room. He kissed her and wished her a good night. Neva slept well that night.
         The next morning Barbados was perched at the edge of her bed. There was a very
small rose tied to his foot along with a note. Neva smiled and retrieved it. She was glad to
see the elegant script of the mysterious „Faithful Admirer‟ again.
         Dear Neva. It is I once again. While the fire in you may scare many men, I seem
to be all the more attracted to it. I was there at the counsel yesterday and quite shocked
to see you there at all. I noticed the way you drew on paper, never listening to a word any
of us said. I notice a lot of small things about you. Your eyes shine just slightly brighter
when you’re angry or when you’re thinking. When you smile, the dimple on your right
cheek is more noticeable than the one on the left. I hope my words do not make me seem
like a frightening, following eye everywhere you go. Only if you knew who I am, Neva. As
always, Your Faithful Admirer.
         She slipped the note under her pillow and placed the rose by the window. Then,
she made her way down to the dining room. Many of the counsel had already come and
were being served breakfast. Neva sat down near the end of the table. Even over the loud
noises and clattering of dishes, she heard some whispering about her. She never
understood the point of whispering behind a person‟s back when it hadn‟t even first been
turned around. Neva guessed they hadn‟t thought of this.
         “Well,” Dave said, “It looks like we‟re mostly here. Why not get started now?”
         Several of the counsel members nodded. They took their seats and got quiet. Dave
began talking of the previous meeting‟s points. Neva looked at the forty or fifty seated
around her. Any one of these could be my ‘Faithful Admirer,‟ she thought. Then, she
started scribbling on paper once again. Then, everything became quiet. She looked up and
saw everyone staring at her.
         “Uh, did I miss something?” she asked. Several men started laughing. She leaned
back in her chair and peered up at Dave.
         He cleared his throat and said, “Frederick asked you a question, Neva.” He
covered his mouth to hide a smile. She looked to the Lycan standing up.
         “What is it?” she asked.
         He said, “I asked, „What stands your disposition towards Vampires even
considering past events?‟” She thought about the question for a moment.
         “Well,” Neva said, “I realize that not all Vampires are like the ones that
imprisoned me. Just as not all Lycans are like Delta Lycans.”
         Several men nodded at her words. “I have no hatred for Vampires as a whole or in
general.” Neva was partially lying. She didn‟t have any prejudice for Lycans, though she
thought Vampires were disgusting creatures. Neva kept a civilized and courteous front
while socializing with them nevertheless.
         A Vampire stood up, “Does anyone else find it odd that she be for peace at all?
Have we forgotten who she is? This is Neva the Swordslinger.”
         “This is not about reminding ourselves of our past sins,” Dave said.
         “She killed many of my brethren,” the Vampire replied.
         “You and your brethren killed mine too, buddy,” Neva said coldly. “It‟s all your
fault I don‟t know my parents, and it‟s your fault Seth is dead.”
         “Enough,” Dave said. He took off his glasses and polished them on his shirt. Then
he said, “Let‟s calm down. I know this war has caused many deaths, even to those close



                                                                                        114
Swordslinger                                                                         A.A. Yeargin


to us. It does not help to lose our temper. Let‟s begin a new topic.”
         They began talking and Neva listened reluctantly. She could feel the eyes of every
Vampire boring into her. There was tension between her and them, but she simply leaned
back in her chair and ignored them.
         After three days of long, stressful counsel meetings, they finally came to a
suitable charter of the races. There were several expansive and intricately written out bills
with bylaws. Dave sent the members of their races back to their homes to announce the
new charter. Days passed and things were slowly changing. The Vampires, Lycans, and
Canutes were no longer hidden minorities in Liam. This had been a new first in the
world. The races had always been very separate from each other.
         While many previous prejudices between them dissipated, some still remained.
The lesser-educated still stuck with the original ideas of each other. It always made Neva
smiled when a group of children from different races would play together. They seemed
to have no clue they were different.
         One day she went to Father Crowe‟s quarters to visit him. The building was the
same as it had ever been. She opened the door and found a strange man sitting at the
desk. He was bent over his work. He looked middle aged and half-moon spectacles hung
at the bridge of his nose. He set his stylus down and looked up at her.
         “How may I help you ma‟am?” he asked.
         She replied, “Well, uh, I was looking for Father Crowe, but…”
         “Ah, I see,” he replied. He took the glasses off and said, “I‟m afraid he passed
away a number of months ago. I‟m Father Maines.”
         “Oh,” she said sighing slightly.
         “There is a memorial statue of him down near the training area, and if you ever
need someone to talk to. I‟m always here. Were you a pupil of his?”
         “Yes,” she answered.
         She sat down and they talked for a small while. Then, she visited Father Crowe‟s
statue. Neva kneeled by the base and looked up at it. It had been very well made. It was
not his image though. Father Crowe always had a smiling look in his eyes. The look upon
the statue‟s face was grave. She turned away and returned to the nobles‟ quarters after a
little while.
         The next morning she dressed and walked out onto the training field. The young
men ran up and down the field. She noticed the Canutes‟ and Lycans‟ agility the most.
They all turned and looked at her quickly before their captain ordered them to turn back
around.
         She finally walked away and traveled around the fort. The building itself was the
same, yet the feel of it was different. It no longer felt like a prison or a training facility. It
was a place of new beginnings. As Neva strolled past the stables, she noticed a young boy
working in the stalls. He appeared to be having a hard time with the hay. Neva stepped
inside the stables and peered at him.
         “Hey kid. Would you like a hand?” she asked.
         His first reaction was a scared one, and then as she grabbed a pitchfork and
helped, he warmed up to her. She told him stories that made him laugh. After the work
had been completely finished, she sat on the wooden fencing on a stall and stroked a
horse‟s muzzle.
         “Was the war scary for you?” the boy asked.



                                                                                              115
Swordslinger                                                                     A.A. Yeargin


        Neva thought for a moment and replied, “Yeah. Sometimes I was scared for the
people around me. The last thing I wanted was for any of them to die. Unfortunately,
some did.” She sighed as she thought about all the death she had seen, especially Seth‟s.
        “I want to be an Elite,” the boy said as he peered out at the men striding across the
field.
        Neva looked at the boy and studied him. He was a blonde haired child with a
scattering array of freckles. His face was dirty from the recent work. He looked strong,
and Neva guessed he was about ten years old.
        Neva smiled and said, “I did too. I was one…but not even for an hour.” The boy
giggled at this. “What‟s your name?” she asked him.
        “My name‟s Hayden,” he replied.
        Neva asked, “Do you live in Helix?”
        “Well, we used to live just outside Helix on a farm. We raised horses, big ones.
Then, my father moved us to the city. Now, I don‟t live anywhere,” he answered sadly.
She looked right into his sea green eyes.
        “Where…where are your parents now?” she inquired.
        Hayden sighed and averted his eyes to the ground as he said, “Both died of a
disease about four months ago. I‟ve been working here for food.” This world is so cruel,
Neva thought. Why are there so many orphans these days? Then, Neva sighed realizing
she didn‟t even know why she was orphaned or who by.
        “Well, come with me. I‟ll give you a home and take care of you,” she said holding
out a hand.
        He looked up at her uneasily then nodded his head. Hayden placed his small, dirty
hand in hers, and she led him to her room in the nobles‟ quarters. She gave him food and
let him sleep in her bed. The next morning she arose and went to the boy with the stables
to help him with his work. Hayden told her about each horse.
        “The bay there is Chariot. There‟s Trelyte, Ferris, and Ezeroth. The sorrel one
there is my favorite. She‟s a mare and her name is Robin. She‟s a pureblood
thoroughbred. Then, this one doesn‟t have a name yet. We just recently got him in,” he
said. Hayden pointed to a dark colored Clydesdale horse. He pawed at the ground lightly
with a shod hoof. He scattered the straw about his stall and pranced about in the dust. She
noticed his large hoof prints.
        Then, something quickly dawned upon her as she began to walk away. Large hoof
prints, she thought. There were large hoof prints just outside the cave that day my
‘Faithful Admirer’ saved me. Also, there were large prints from when Seth was killed.
Neva gasped lightly as she thought, My ‘Faithful Admirer’ was the one to kill Seth.
        “Is there something wrong, Neva?” Hayden asked.
        She shook her head slowly, “No, no. I‟m fine.” He gave her a hug, and she
hugged him back gently.
        “Come on, Hayden. Let‟s go,” she said. He smiled and took her hand.
        He asked her as they walked, “Neva, could you teach me how to use a sword like
you do?” She looked down at his sparkling green eyes.
        “I will, but only if you promise me something,” she said.
        “Anything!” he replied.
        Neva said, “You must promise me that you will only use your sword for good…”
        “…and not evil!” he said with a grin. “Yes ma‟am!”



                                                                                         116
Swordslinger                                                                   A.A. Yeargin


         “Alright, we‟ll begin tomorrow after we finish our work in the stable,” she said
with a slight yawn. They went into Neva‟s room and Hayden sat in a chair. He grabbed a
book from the side table and began reading.
         Neva asked, “Do you like to read?”
         “Oh yes. My father told us that reading was one of the most important things we
gotta‟ know,” he replied with a smile. He had a few small gaps in his teeth from where
childhood teeth had fallen out.
         After dinner, they slept well from a long day of work. The next morning, Neva
woke up to find him up and reading in the chair in the corner.
         He pointed to the table beside the bed and said, “Lord Dave brought you some
breakfast, Neva.” She rubbed her eyes and looked at the silver tray filled with fresh bacon
and eggs with a side of bread.
         “Did you have breakfast?” she asked.
         He nodded and answered, “Yes, he let me eat with him at the big table!”
         Neva smiled at him and replied, “How nice. Well, let me have some breakfast,
we‟ll do our work in the stables, and then I‟ll take you out to the combat training arena
today.”
         He smiled brightly and went back to reading. He must be very intelligent, Neva
thought. He’s so young, but he can read large, old texts. After Neva ate, they went down
to the stables and cleaned them. They fed the horses and groomed them all. Then, Neva
took Hayden to the combat training arena. She knew which times it would be empty and
found that it was. She grabbed two novice sticks and opened the gate. Neva handed him
one as he stepped inside.
         “Alright, I‟ll show you how to hold it properly and what moves there are. Then,
we‟ll get to using them in a fight situation.” Then she whispered, “If you get really good,
I‟ll teach you some of my tricks but remember the promise you made me.”
         He nodded with bright exuberance, and they began. He had some difficulty
holding the large stick, but he learned quickly and mastered several movements in one
lesson. They left as soon as one group was approaching.
         “There‟s a group coming along. Let‟s get going, Hayden,” Neva said. They both
went to Neva‟s room. As they were sitting down, there came a knock upon the door.
         “Who is it?” Neva asked.
         The man said, “It‟s me, Dave.” She opened the door and let him in. Hayden
smiled and waved at him. Dave returned the pleasantry, and then looked at Neva.
         “Could we talk?” he asked. She nodded and they walked out onto the balcony.
Neva noticed he was slightly wringing his hands. He looked a bit uneasy behind the
spectacles hanging lowly on the brim of his nose. He sat down on a bench and looked up
at her.
         “If you‟re looking for an answer, Dave, I‟m still unsure…” she said looking away
slightly.
         Dave shook his head and said, “No, please take your time on that. I‟d hate to rush
you. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you something. I probably should have told you
before.” He tugged at his blue nobles‟ shirt. Dave grabbed her and placed her in his lap.
         “What is it?” she asked. He took her hands in his and looked into her eyes.
         “Well, you know that „Faithful Admirer‟ person you told me about?” She nodded
in reply. “That was me.”



                                                                                        117
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


         Her eyes grew wide and she slipped out of his lap. Neva backed up a few steps
and shook her head slowly. The one thought in her mind repeated over and over again,
Dave killed Seth. Dave killed Seth.
         He asked, “What‟s the matter?”
         She looked away and then swiftly repelled off the balcony using a rope. She made
her way to Thomas‟s home within the officer housing. She knocked upon his door. Neva
could hear sounds on the other side of the door. After knocking once more and waiting,
he finally opened it.
         “What? Can‟t a normal person sleep?” he said groggily. His face was covered in
hair and he reeked of alcohol.
         Neva looked at him and said, “Thomas, it‟s now the evening.”
         “Uh, yeah. I go to bed early,” he replied. Thomas shifted, leaning up against the
doorframe. “What do you want?”
         “Well, I came to tell you something,” she whispered.
         “Yeah?” Thomas said in an impatient tone.
         Neva replied, “Look. You sound really drunk maybe I should come back later.”
         “No, you already woke me up,” Thomas said. “Hurry it up already.”
         “It‟s about…Dave,” she said. He scowled and punched the door with his fist.
         “It‟s always about Lord Dave. It‟s all everyone can talk about. Get out of here.
Don‟t waste my time with that crap,” he said crossly.
         “Thomas…” she said shocked.
         “Go!” he yelled.
         She looked into his angry brown eyes and said firmly, “Fine.” He slammed the
door, and Neva turned away. She ran to where the statue of Father Crowe stood and sat at
its base.
         “Father,” she whispered, “why did it come to this? I just can‟t believe Dave killed
Seth. What should I do?”
         Whether it had been a dream, some desperate hallucination, or a real apparition,
Neva saw him standing behind her. Then, something struck her. Am I any better than he
is? It is all my fault his father died, she thought.
         “My dear child, you must follow your heart, for in his heart dwells your love and
in yours dwells his,” he told her.
         “But I don‟t know if I love Dave,” she replied. He merely shook his head and
disappeared. “Father…” she whispered in vain.
         Neva covered her face and began crying. She woke lying in the dew covered grass
beside Father Crowe‟s statue at morning‟s first light. She shivered lightly as sat upright.
Then, Thomas approached her and kneeled beside her.
         He looked at her, “Goodness, you said I was a mess?” He smiled and helped her
to her feet. Then, Thomas said, “I‟m really sorry about…you know. I just was really
drunk. I normally don‟t let myself go like that but I just couldn‟t deal with…never mind.
Anything I could possibly do to be forgiven?”
         “Thomas,” she said quietly, “just shut up and listen. What I was going to tell you
yesterday was that I knew who killed Seth, my „Faithful Admirer.‟”
         “Oh really. See, I knew that guy was no good,” he said.
         She nodded and asked, “And do you know who he is?”
         He perked a brow and inquired, “Who?”



                                                                                        118
Swordslinger                                                                    A.A. Yeargin


        “Lord Dave,” she answered. Thomas inhaled sharply at the name.
        “Lord Dave killed him…?” he said remarkably. Then, he looked away and
thought for a moment.
        “As I recall, you and I were talking. That arrow was aimed for you. My guess is
Dave was jealous of something about you. I just don‟t know what,” she said. Thomas
looked away slightly.
        He said, “Yeah. I think I might know.”
        Suddenly, Neva remembered the conversation they were having just as it
happened. “Hmm, you know I once asked Jeremy…” Then, Seth’s voice yelled, “Look
out!” His last words. She shuddered lightly at the memory and then looked up at
Thomas.
        “What were you going to say then?” she asked.
        “Say?” he said inquisitively.
        She replied, “Yeah. You said you asked Jeremy something. What was it?”
        Thomas turned a light shade of red as his brown eyes quickly averted to the
ground. Neva crossed her arms and looked at him. Then, the breakfast bell tolled for the
trainees. A small, black bird swooped down and dropped a note at Neva‟s feet. She
picked it up and read it. It’s in the west wing, on the floor of the marble dome, right now.
Nikolai. Neva crumpled up the note and threw it onto the ground. She began sprinting
across the fort.
        “Neva! Where are you going? Wait up!” Thomas yelled.
        She ignored his pleas and ran even faster. Neva burst into the nobles‟ quarters and
ran down the hall. Her pounding steps echoed through the empty hallway. She made her
way to the dome room of marble where two other halls intersected. Neva stopped at the
edge of the hall and peered into the white room.
        She almost lost her breath when she saw a small leather book lying in the middle
of it. Neva slowly walked to it, and nervously picked it up in her hands. Without pausing
to look at the cover, she opened the book that contained her parents' lives and her very
own identity that she had longed to find her entire life. Her hands shook violently as she
opened it to the first page.
        As her eyes glimpsed the first words, a blade was viciously thrust into her back
and protruded through her stomach. The book fell out of her hands, tumbling to the floor.
Sadly, Neva watched it fall to the ground. She made no noise as the sword was
withdrawn from her. In a flurry of crimson, Neva fell forward onto the marble flooring.
The hollow sound echoed through the empty halls. The last words she heard were, “I'm
sorry, my dear.”




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