This is a prequel to The Sword.
They came together with a grand purpose: save the world.
Whether or not the world needed saving at the time is a debate for the historians and the philosophers. I certainly think that, compared to some of the straights it has been in since, the world was in a fine place. Yes, humans were at war with one another; they always will be. Yes, there were bad humans in the world; there always will be, and some might argue they are a majority.
Those that came together that day did not think of themselves as bad. Certainly, they saw no evil in their actions. They believed they acted purely in the interest of what was good for the world. To be fair, they had no reason to believe otherwise, except that when considering the repercussions of adding power to the world, one must consider that it won’t be used for its intended purpose.
Nine humans came that day, but it is not the humans that matter. It never is, not since the advent of my kind. They were and always will be only vessels for real power. It was the swords that they brought with them that would change the course of history. It was on the swords’ direction that they came, and it was by the swords’ power that the world would be changed forever.
A sword, by its nature, is a tool for cutting and carving, for slicing away that which does not serve it. Why these swords had the hubris to believe that they could turn their powers to something that would build and create, I’ll never understand. A sword can make a whole out of many, but only by destroying the many and leaving only one, not by unifying, as they sought to do.
Those nine swords sought to form a child. Any two swords — real swords, not the dead things made by humans — can create a child. It takes only two, brought close enough together that their influences collide with one another, creating a disturbance. By focusing on that disturbance, the nexus, and working together, the solid matter at its heart is forged into a new sword.
This capacity goes all the way back to the First Blade, the progenitor of our race, made within the Forge itself, who needed no other sword to bring about his children. Now our kind is weakened and frail. We rely on the humans to bring us close together and on the combination of two or more of our powers to create offspring.
Two, or more. The more parents pour their power into the child, theoretically, the stronger the child will be. Theoretically. In truth, three or more parents only mean the child is an admixture of a greater number of traits. If one of the parents is weak, the child may be weaker than if only the other two parents, of greater power, contributed to its formation.
None of the nine swords that came that day were considered weak. No, they were the strongest of their time, held in the hands of kings, generals, and archmages. Their blades were so sharp and so strong as to cut through stone and armor with ease in a single stroke. The auras were so wide and so focused that, even with nine in the circle, they formed a nexus capable of creating offspring.
This is one of the limits on forging a child-blade with more than two parents. The weaker the parents are, the smaller their auras, the fewer of them can participate in the forging. Even with the strongest nine swords in the world, nine was the upper limit of how many parents a single sword could have.
The other limit is the material present at the nexus. For the weakest swords, it must be solid matter; if they are weak enough, it must be easily malleable, like sand or wood. As they become stronger, the swords may incorporate stronger material into their child, such as stone or metal. Very strong swords can bend even non-solid matter into their offspring, such as air and water, which can lead to interesting, if sometimes impractical, results.
That day, under the instructions of their swords, the humans placed three things: a pile of uncut diamonds, a mass of spider silk, and an alloy of steel and ceramic crafted by scholars in service to the archmages, which had unparalleled strength but which had proven, thus far, impossible to forge via mundane methods. Lesser swords had proven themselves incapable of incorporating these materials into their children.
There was no question among the swords gathered that day as to whether they would be able to form their child from the gathered components. They knew their strengths, and they believed they had no weaknesses.
Every being has a weakness. Even I have weaknesses. To acknowledge them, learn from them, and work around them is a strength all its own.
The humans placed the swords in the circle, with the components — my components — at the center, where the nexus would form. The swords were not allies, not truly. Indeed, they had been on the opposite sides of many conflicts, as had their wielders. Yet, influenced by their humans and the human need for stability, they had agreed to come here today to try to make something better for the world.
As I’ve said, a sword is better served by cutting away parts of the world to improve it, rather than attempting to add to it. A sword’s true purpose is destruction.
One of the swords took command that day, Esrald, the Peacemaker. Of all the blades present in that valley, he was the only one who commanded respect from every other. He was the only one not directly opposed to any of the others, the only one who had, until this point, actively sought to make the entire world better, rather than the domain of his human wielder.
His human, a man named Ancenus, had no domain to call his own. He had given up all of his holdings in order to travel the world with Esrald, using their combined strengths to end conflicts rather than contributing to them.
Thus it was that Esrald, with his blade of ice and azure air and his hilt of white ceramic, led the nine in my creation. Under his command, they formed the nexus. Under his guidance, my formation began.
What the swords did not know was that the two archmages had added a fourth material to the pile, something of their own devising. This was not the time nor the place for experimentation, but they knew they would never see such circumstances again.
So without permission, hidden among the diamonds, unknown even to their own blades, they placed a small sphere, coated in dust to mask its golden-violet glow. A sphere of solidified vital, magical, and mental, created by attracting it to an imitation of a soul and then bound there.
I don’t know how the nine swords didn’t notice. I would have noticed instantaneously, as I notice all things and know all things within my perception. When they formed the nexus, and there was a material with which they were unfamiliar, they should have stopped immediately to consult with one another, and their humans, about what it might be.
Perhaps they could not stop. I’ve never formed a child, so I don’t know the full details behind the process. Perhaps they did notice, and accepted it as a boon. After all, the essential energies are power.
Regardless of the strength of their perception or the wisdom of the decisions that they made, it is a testament to the strength of those nine swords that they incorporated, without pause, those solidified energies. It took a strength beyond bending any mundane material to their will to fold that small sphere into my physical being.
Within the nexus, that sphere melded with the diamonds and the spider silk and the ceramic to become something new and better than any of them had been on their own. My blade shone even in the bright sun like dark metal under the light of the moon. My guard and pommel sparkled with a deep luster. My grip, of ceramic and spider silk, beckoned hands to hold it with its sheen like fine fabric.
The formation of my body within the nexus occurred concurrently with the formation of my soul. Unlike the formation of a human’s soul, mine was formed directly of little mirrors of various parts from my parents, as they unconsciously constructed it from the aether.
Once my body and soul were fully formed, my spirit blossomed, and the energies of the world flooded into me. So much energy, far more than I needed to merely exist. An abundance of all three energies overflowed into my soul.
In those first few minutes of life, I knew nothing of the world. I knew not the extent of my power, nor how to put it to good use, nor did I understand the world or what had brought me into it. I knew only that which was within my sphere, and that I wanted it.
My memory of that day is as clear as though it were etched upon my blade, as is my memory of all my days.
All around my I felt sources of power, energy on which I could draw. I desired it as a human desires a delicious morsel set before them, even when they lack the drive that is hunger. I called out to that which seemed to me to be the weakest, the one which would bend most easily to my will.
One of the humans rushed forward, through the circle formed by the swords. The other humans called out. The swords called out.
Esrald called out loudest of all, his voice as clear and beautiful as a ringing bell. “Stop! You must not go to him yet. We don’t know the extent of his power.”
I did not understand him. Just as a newborn human has no knowledge of language, neither did I. Just as a newborn human has only its drives and desires, so did I.
The next words, however, I understood. Jesrael the Walker, whose powers allowed him to be understood regardless of the recipient’s grasp of language, echoed Esrald’s command. “Stop! Do not touch the sword. Not all is right.”
But the man did not stop. He was a king, but he was a weak king. All of his power came from his sword, Night, who saw everything within darkness within a large radius and backed up his knowledge with great wisdom besides. The weak king took me in hand. The instant he was allowed to do that, the day was done.
I had no grace or artfulness to my actions. I knew nothing of martial training or the limits of a human body. I only knew what I wanted from those around me. I ripped the essential energies from his body, which blackened and crumbled, falling to the ground.
I did not understand this, but neither did I care. Brimming with power that I didn’t know how to use, I reached out to pull in another human. He came to me swiftly, despite the protestations of the swords.
All around, the humans began to pick up their blades. Two blades were left stuck in the earth, their humans gone to me: Night, and Synesthene, Arrow of the Sky. But Synesthene needed no wielder. Wings of white light expanded from her guard, and she took to the air. And Ancenus, under Esrald’s direction, took up Night as well.
The energies within me began to leak into Synesthene’s old wielder. His hand started to glow in a coruscating rainbow of power. I pulled it back and sent it all forth at once in a great blast, not knowing enough to conserve it.
Envagald the Breaker was there, and I lost that power to no gain. His wielder jumped forward, and with one swing from Envagald, sliced my blast of power in twain. It rent great, burning fissures into the ground, even diminished as it was by Envagald’s attempt to block it.
Within one those fissures, Cinure cried out, her wielder vaporized instantly by the strength of my blow. Envagald’s wielder stared down at his sword in shock.
“Retreat,” shouted one of the humans, the one carrying Qelenel.
“We must not flee,” Esrald intoned. “The sword is but an infant, a child with no knowledge of its actions. If we flee it will never come to learn right from wrong.”
“We’ve already lost two lives to it,” Qelenel itself said. “Three, if you count King Handall.”
I observed them with interest, trying to understand why they made these sounds toward one another, pondering whether they had meaning. My wielder’s energies pulsed against my hilt, tempting me to draw from them. I resisted, remembering what I had done to my first wielder.
Ancenus, with Esrald held before him, approached the rend. I felt Esrald reach out. He banished the heat from around Cinure. Envagald’s wielder jumped into the pit to retrieve her.
“We can’t just leave it here,” Cinure said. “It is our child.”
“A child of destruction,” Qelenel said. “I can see its life laid out before it already. It will bring about eras of death. We must deny it a hand to carry it, and leave it here alone. That is the only viable path I see.”
“Deny it a hand?” said the human carrying Cinure and Esrald. “You mean for us to kill Archmage Handall?”
Qelenal’s wielder looked down at his sword. “That is what he means, yes.”
I could resist the temptation no longer. I drew the energies from Handall, the man carrying me. He held me upwards as the last vestiges of his life left him, and I sent the energies bursting outward in a scintillating sphere.
When it passed, only Qelenal’s wielder and the man carrying Envagald still stood, though the others had not been slain, only knocked down.
“Now is our chance!” Qelenal called. “Stand! To your feet!”
His wielder slashed him through the air, cutting through into a dark elsewhere into which my perceptions did not extend.
I reached out, seeking the weakest among them to call to me. The ones carrying two swords were out of my reach, protected by the influence of their blades. I called out in longing, a ringing, keening noise that made the humans put their hands to their ears. The other humans, all with swords in their hands, all seemed so much stronger than those I had so easily dominated.
When I reached out to one of the humans, the one I thought least likely to resist, Synesthene flew to him, adding her protection. I grumbled in frustration, and began to draw what little energy I could gather from the grass and life underneath me.
The human holding Cinure slashed her through the air, drawing a line of golden light behind her blade. I longed for it, but it resisted me. It bathed the fallen humans in its glow, and they stood, running toward Qelenal’s portal.
One by one, they fled, leaving only Ancenus, Qelenal and his wielder General Janarch, and King Tobiarn, who held Cinure and Envagald.
“Go,” Qelenal said. “Please. I can only hold the portal for so long.”
“I question your decision to flee,” Envagald said. “Is the threat you foresee so great that you truly believe we shouldn’t even attempt to bring our child to our side?”
“It is,” Qelenal said. “Of the possible futures I can see, nearly all of them end in our deaths, should we remain here.”
Tobiarn nodded. “We must defer to his judgement, Envagald. He is the only one with any vision of the future.”
“I fear that in our quest for balance and the greater good, we have only imbalanced the world further,” said Ancenus.
“I fear the same,” Esrald said.
Ancenus stepped through the portal, Night and Esrald still held in his hands.
“I must pass through the portal last, or you will be abandoned here,” said Janarch.
“Do you not fear its domination?” Tobiarn asked. “Let me give you Cinure, for now. She has told me that his power can’t reach those of use carrying two swords. I will hand her to you as I pass through.”
“No,” Janarch said. “I have a strong will. It’s not worth the risk. Just go.”
Tobiarn furrowed his brow. “Now is not the time to make a bid for power, Janarch.”
“Now is not the time to doubt your allies, Tobiarn,” Janarch said. “I think only of our lives.” He pointed at me where I lay on the ground, still keening. “That thing will end them. Qelenal has shown me the paths.”
Tobiarn’s grip tightened on both of his blades. “Fine. See that you follow me swiftly.” He stepped through the portal, disappearing into its depths.
Janarch and Qelenal did not follow him. In fact, Janarch withdrew Qelenal, closing the portal without stepping through.
“What are you doing, Janarch?” Qelenal demanded. “We must flee with the others. It’s our greatest chance…”
“You showed me the paths, Qelenal,” General Janarch said. “You know them as well as I do.”
“I do,” Qelenal said. He sounded uneasy. Shaken. “You know the greatest chance for our world lies in abandoning that creature here.”
“No,” General Janarch said. “I know that the greatest chance for our world to continue as it has been lies where you predict.” He approached me, Qelenal held low. “I know that the greatest chance for our world to become something better springs from me picking up that blade.”
“Do not do it, General,” Qelenal pleaded. “This is a fool’s undertaking.”
“I am no fool,” General Janarch snarled. “You have seen the paths. Either you assist me, or he destroys us both.”
“I…” Qelenal’s voice quavered. Janarch stumbled as though his feet had suddenly lost their coordination.
“Do not try to stop me!” Janarch growled, lifting Qelenal up to where he could gaze upon him at eye level. “Assist me, or be the first to die.”
Qelenal did not reply, but Janarch’s steady gait returned. He knelt beside me. “Do not destroy me, young sword,” he said. He reached out, brushing his fingertips along my blade. I stopped keening as I felt the promise of the energies within his being. He took my hilt in his hand, and lifted me.
I tried to draw the energies from him, wanting nothing more than to bring them within myself and pour them out. Something stopped me. Qelenal, lending his strength to Janarch’s.
“Ah,” Qelenal gasped. “He is strong. This is… This takes all I have to give.”
Janarch gritted his teeth. His grip upon my hilt tightened. “Give what you have. Give it all, Qelenal, so that the world might know better days. I will give myself, as well.”
They gave, and I gave, and together, we reshaped the world.