Fael barely managed to keep standing. Each breath hurt him.
Tetsuko could feel his pain as he tightened his grip on the handle.
Around him were the corpses of the man he had killed. No one could say he still had something to do.
Even so, he refused to back down; he refused to bend his knees.
Not as long as his enemy was still breathing.
Stabbing the sword in the earth, he used the sword as support, never taking his eyes off the warrior.
Incredible, the soul inside the sword thought, staring the dead. Even though the boy’s given up his defense… to be able to kill three enemies like this and still stand…
“I’ll… make… you pay… for all… this…” Fael managed to whisper.
Despite barely having any strength left, he gripped the handle of Tetsuko harder and stared a shadow walking in his direction.
The shadow only grew with each step. Only when a cloud blocked the pale sun, Tetsuko realized it was a woman.
She’s much stronger than the others, the blacksmith realized.
“I’m impressed a no-name forest dweller managed to kill my men,” she said in a low voice. “It’s an insult to them, but my orders are to ask for the traitor to surrender before resort to taking your life.
“Surrender and then what? Even if I was allowed to live, how could I?” Fael found strength as he screamed. “How could I live in a world without Lia?”
The warrior sighed.
“Believe it or not, I do not ravish the idea of killing fellow countrymen, however traitorous your people might be.”
“Again, with the… countrymen…” Despite his pain, Fael showed a dark smile. “Your people never helped us. And now send soldiers to kill us… and you say you don’t like the idea of killing countrymen?”
“We had to do this because you betrayed our king,” the woman said in a cold voice, but Tetsuko saw her tightening her fists.
“Betray your king?”
“You allowed enemies to enter our territory.”
Fael took a deep breath and ignored all the pain in his body.
“Your enemies! Not ours! We asked for help, for reinforcements. But the army didn’t even listen to us. So why should’ve we give our lives for your king?”
The woman closed her eyes and bit her lips.
“It’s true… There’s been a lot of problems lately… Other fights prevented us from offering any help at the time… But if you had fought for your king, none of—”
“Not our king! He was never our king!”
The energy inside him was a turmoil. His pain and rage mixed in that stream
So that’s how he can still stand, Tetsuko realized.
Grievous and sorrow crossed the woman’s face.
“Guess you’ll never surrender,” she said, drawing her long two-handed sword.
“For my friends who died, I could never.”
Fael pulled Tetsuko out of the ground and raised towards his enemy.
Surrender, boy, the sword wanted to say. She’s much stronger than those men. You’ll die for nothing.
Once again her voice never reached him.
But even if it did, she knew it would make no difference.
The turmoil inside him had ceased.
Instead of the rage and pain mixing, the energy had become calm and steady.
His entire being was focused on one thing; to kill the warrior before him.
He’s ready to die. He’s using the last of his life here, Tetsuko realized.
Even if she could, she would not tell him to surrender.
Is there any way I can help him?
But before she could think of anything, Fael ran towards the woman.
The young man jumped, putting all his weight to strike her from above.
Fool! Look how tall she is! You should aim lower!
She blocked with ease, sparks flying when the blades met. The next moment, she swung the massive sword.
Fael managed to block but was flew backward with the impact.
With her strength and that sword, there’s no way he can parry for much time, Tetsuko realized with one collision. I’ll die… break.
But the young man didn’t waste time.
The moment he landed, he used the impulse to lurch himself forwards.
When the swordswoman was within range, Fael stretched his arms, wanting to pierce her stomach.
Instead of defending or redirecting the attack, the woman spun her body to avoid the blade.
Get away! Tetsuko screamed the moment she realized the faint.
The woman continued the spin and used the momentum to throw her put her weight on the sword.
Despite her size, the blade was fast, almost a blur.
Fael raised Tetsuko and jumped forwards to avoid the attack.
The tip of her sword slashed at his back, but the would wasn’t so deep.
The surprised crossed the woman’s face. But it was only for a moment.
The next instant, her eyes became empty as she began her relentless attacks.
Each strike was precise and deadly.
Even though she was tall and strong, she was a swordswoman who relied on skill, not on brutal strength.
Despite knowing her voice wasn’t reaching him, Tetsuko couldn’t help but scream. Head! Throat! Gut! Lung!
Even if Fael couldn’t listen to Tetsuko, he managed to dodge or block all the attacks.
But that took its toll.
If the young man was already tired from the previous fight, now he was exhausted.
Tetsuko could feel it. Little by little, she was becoming heavier and heavier for his arms.
He won’t endure for much longer, the sword knew. The only way to survive is to yield.
But… she glanced at his face. There’s no way he’ll do that… This fight will only end with death.
The warrior began attacking again, aiming to drive the two-handed sword through Fael’s heart once more.
The young man took a deep breath.
Instead of avoid, dodge, block or redirect that heavy sword, Fael ran towards the strike.
At once Tetsuko knew what he was thinking. Don’t!
She tried to brace herself for the impact, but it never happened.
Instead of using the sword to create an opening, Fael shifted his body.
He took the blow with his body but avoided his heart.
He only did that in order to attack the woman on the neck.
The warrior widened her eyes.
But the next moment, as the blood ran down Tetsuko and dripped into the ground, there was no life in her anymore.
They both fell to the ground.
Tetsuko didn’t need to see; she knew his wound was fatal.
Fool… It’s impressive that you managed to kill her… anyone should praise you… but you could’ve chosen to live, she thought, closing the eyes she no longer had.
“I… know,” he managed to whisper in a heavy voice. With great effort, he looked at his sword. “But what… kind of… life…?”
Tetsuko stared back at him. You can hear me…?
“Yeah… since… the middle… of the fight…” He showed a smile, the blood running down the corner of his mouth. “If not for you, I’d have died much sooner.”
Fool… What difference does it make? You’re still dying anyway, she thought in an empty voice. Even if he was her wielder, even if she didn’t want him to die, she didn’t mourn his death. Killing her won’t change the fact that your people lost the fight.
“Yes… you’re right… but now… they’ll see that we… aren’t to be taken lightly…”
Fool… all this, your life, those deaths… for a message… If she could, Tetsuko would shake her head. A meaningless death.
“My death… has meaning… if I can protect the future of my people… this way… I can…”
Despite the pain and blood, he showed an expression full of determination.
“The kingdom will listen to us now… But there’s one thing…”
“My life… I…”
He coughed blood and closed his eyes. He endured the pain and turned to his sword once again.
“Can you listen to my story?”
Tetsuko stared at him.
I’ll grant my wielder final wish and listen to the life and death of Fael.