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Zero Adept

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Blue took a tidy step to the side as the Valkryie rushed at him. It whirled past, and turned, and on the second strike with its fist he caught it at the shoulder and spun it onto its back with a strange grappling throw. "Thou hast a strange kind of honor," he said, "to send a golem in thy stead." He stretched the arm he'd made the throw with, as though he hadn't just twirled more than his own weight in metal over one shoulder.

There had been such a casual grace in the movements that Guiche thought it must have been a fluke, but it still unnerved him. He gestured with his rose and the Valkryie rose again to its feet, but Blue was already pulling out from his robe a small box of polished metal. Guiche was sure it was no weapon, or no useful one, and too small for a wand.

Blue brought it up to his mouth and blew… and a brief burst of melody came out. Guiche thought it might be something like a flute, though with strange workmanship. With the momentary music came a strange tension in the air, like a miscast spell, or a lingering one. Guiche would have mistaken it for a fit of nerves at such a strange action in combat if he hadn't seen some of the onlookers tense, too.

And then the man cried out: "Bring to me a sword of steel, as though forged for mine own hand… true of fit and true of feel, sharpened blade at my command!" There was a sound like a musket going off. Guiche started at the noise, but held. A broadsword had thrust up out of the turf all at once, basket hilt first. Blue plucked it from the ground and settled into sharp-edged duelist's stance. It was a strange incantation for an earth-mage to use, but that would have to do with whatever strange land the man came from, if he was truly not Halkegenian.

The valkryie lunged at him again, this time with its spear. It was more cautious, aggressive but not so fast that it might miss again, and Blue met the spear with his blade. Sparks rose from steel against bronze, and Guiche thought that the man wasn't as strong as the valkryie, but that he knew his strength precisely. Blue gave at a carefully-measured moment, and the valkyrie sprang past him with its own power while he pulled back.

A grin came to Blue's face, as if he were calling up some old victory, and he called out again: "And all should cry, beware! beware! the blade of Blue… its flashing edge, its angry glare!" With each few words he deflected another blow from the valkyrie, and Guiche could see the twinge in the man's arm from the force behind them, though it didn't interrupt his voice.

Guiche's heart sank as he realized that, however strange his opponent's extemporaneous bragging was, it was true. Blue had gone from merely blocking strikes to making them, and his newly-conjured sword was hacking into the metal of Guiche's valkyrie like a sharpened knife into fresh bread. The valkyrie collapsed as Blue took its legs into pieces. Guiche raised his rose to call up another valkyrie…

…and found the tip of Blue's blade at the bare skin of his breastbone, a deep breath away from cutting the skin. Blue had covered the distance in a sprint that would have done the greatest knights of Tristain proud. Even after the blows he had turned back, he held the blade steady. "Thou shoulds't yield, lad," he said. "The mode of thy magic has a great artistry to it, but thou woulds't do better to master the sword, too." The voice was intrigued, not angry.

Guiche's breath was frozen in his throat. There was something almost funny about it, for all that he knew a deeper thrust could kill him in one blow. The man was shorter than the Zero, barely, and far shorter than Guiche himself, but he had handled Guiche's valkyrie as casually as Guiche might an uppity commoner. "I yield," Guiche said in a whisper, and he fell back on his seat as Blue drew the sword away.