A sudden flicker of movement off to the left caught his eye. Another shadow? he wondered. Or something worse?
Cautiously, he drew his sword, the rasp of steel on leather somehow thunderous in the silence of the night. The blade seemed to whistle in the air as he spun it once, twice, three times in his hand while he searched the darkness.
The attack came from behind him, as he had expected it would. Steel rang against steel as he blocked the strike that would have split his spine lengthwise without even looking.
The figure that had attacked him was black-garbed, but it was not one of the hooded shadows he recalled. The black clothing was a loose, baggy sort of tunic and breeches. Black gloves backed by a dull metal plate covered his hands, and his black boots were fronted by overlapping layers of that same dull metal. A black cloth was wrapped around his head, leaving only hard beetle-black eyes exposed.
The weapon he used was as strange as his outfit. Though he held it in both hands, it was as slim and agile a weapon as Malcolm’s own. It had a long, curved blade that slashed the air with the sound of a diving falcon as he forced Malcolm back with deadly sweeps.
It was only the amazing agility and versatility of Malcolm’s own sword that enabled him to keep up with that splendid weapon. He struck it away again and again, often deflecting it at the last moment to keep it from laying him open or slicing his throat.
But as he fought this strange foe, his sharp eyes measured his opponent. He noticed the way the fighter—silent as he was—would shift before a certain cut or drop his shoulder a fraction when he was going for a wider swing. Soon, a pattern emerged, and Malcolm took advantage.
On the next swing, he caught the descending blade in the forked hilt of the Sword of Lions. Before his foe could react, Malcolm rolled the weapons over, bent the black-clad wrists backwards and slid his sword into the notch between the collarbones.
The man jerked, the shock that always came with a death blow. As his body went limp, Malcolm yanked his weapon free and let him drop.
No sooner had he done so than another attacker came from the darkness. While the silent, black-garbed swordsman had been unfamiliar to Malcolm, he could easily identify this opponent. The horse-hide vest, leather breeches and the red-died leather thong that held back his coal-black hair would have instantly identified him as a Mi’Kam’Wo warrior.
Once again, Malcolm was forced back as he dodged and deflected the two ironwood cudgels. Once more, he used the fluidity of his sword to weave a defensive network of steel as he patiently looked for an opening. But when he thought he’d found one and struck, the warrior bent over backwards to avoid the blow. Malcolm had to roll away from what was obviously a prepared counterattack before the warrior could shatter his arm.
He could not use the same trick again, he realized. He would need another method. And so, as he continued to battle, he allowed his mind to focus little by little on the roar that was forever in the back of his mind. And as he did, the roar grew louder and louder inside him until at last it tore loose in a primal howl of defiance.
His magnificent weapon flashed at inhuman speeds, slicing the steel-hard wood into chips and chunks that fell like rain. As the warrior fell back, Malcolm went in for the kill. The warrior’s head rolled along the ground, coming to stop in position to stare at its own fallen body.
The next attacker was a Three Seas corsair, his scimitar a bright flash of metal in the darkness. Unlike the two previous weapons, this was one Malcolm had faced before, but its wielder was far more skilled with it than the castle armsmaster. Malcolm kept having to roll away from the slicing weapon as he tried to find an opening.
Finally, he found what he was looking for. The corsair’s swing required him to pivot his upper body, and that meant he had to set his feet to keep his balance. The next time he rolled, Malcolm went under the swipe rather than away from it. When he came up, a backhanded slash hamstrung the man, sending him pitching to the ground. A slice across the throat ended the threat for good.
An en garde heralded the arrival of an Avannion captain, leading with his rapier. By now, Malcolm was becoming annoyed and chose not to allow the man to get far. He rolled and threw his weapon right into the man’s belly. As the captain’s knees buckled, Malcolm took hold of the hilt of the Sword of Lions, drew it out, and took the man’s head in one fluid motion.
“Was this your plan, then?” he asked, flicking the blade about to clean it off. “To wear me down, then come at me yourself? She has robbed you of more than your good sense if you have taken such a cowardly approach.”
“Needs must,” Cedric said dismissively as he stepped from the shadows, his sword hanging negligently in his grip.
“Needs must,” Malcolm repeated with a shake of his head. “You are truly lost.”
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