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Haunted by Swords

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Afterwards, Turyin Mulaghesh is haunted by swords.

As a young girl, she fell prey to the mystique of swords, the mirror-flash of blades in military parades. When the military accepted her, when they gave her a sword of her own for the first time, she gloried in it. It was one thing to wave a stick around in the air and get teased by the other children for it. Mulaghesh aspired to better things than a stick. She practiced long and hard with the heavy wooden swords so that she could prove herself worthy of working with live steel.

Only later did she learn that swords are powerful, yes, but no more magical than fists, than rocks, than any other cold hard means of making living people into food for the carrion-eaters. For a long time after that, a sword was just a tool. One she wielded most excellently, to the chagrin of peer and enemy alike, but still, just a tool. She took good care of the ones in her possession the way she jogged and did push-ups and drilled, because a tool neglected is a tool that will eventually betray you.

Then came Voortya.

At night the memory of encasing steel returns to her. At times it feels as though her very pillow will turn to metal and encase her head, limit her vision. That the blankets will swaddle her limbs and become a carapace of insectine plates. She hears the ghost fleet and the rising chant, Voortya, Voortya.

Those are the good nights.

On the bad ones, she hears them cry, Mother, Mother. She is not so naive, or dishonest with herself, as to think that she's never trained a soldier like Voortya's followers, starved for blood, craving glory measured in spilled lengths of intestine and spelled out in ragged bone. Soldiers like the one she was during the Summer of Black Rivers.

During the days, she finds herself gravitating toward riflings and crossbows. It's an illusion, of course. It doesn't matter to the dead whether they were felled by blade or bullet or bolt. Sometimes, as she sips her tea, she reflects that Voortya's massed soldiers were terrifying enough with the living swords they wielded. Let's be real, she thinks. A bullet is just a bit of mass hurled fast enough to do damage. Voortya's swords might as well have been mortar rounds.

Still, soldiers carry swords, and Mulaghesh cannot escape the sight of them. Every time she sees one out of the corner of her eye, she wonders if it will come unsheathed with that telltale hum. If it has a severed hand instead of a proper guard. She wonders whose soul it contains. Pommels peek out like reproachful eyes.

She's haunted by the swords of her own people, but it doesn't matter. What she did to Voortya's faithful she would do again, all over again. There are right ways to serve and wrong ways to serve.

She has to believe this, or fall apart all over again.