Part 20 – Showdown
Jala charged. There was no battle cry or guttural scream, she hurtled towards Magebane with nothing but silence, just the cold and stoic inevitability of death itself. Her sword arced up in a furious backhand stoke. It was an obvious opening gambit. One which Magebane read easily and moved in to parry. The sound of ringing steel filled the great hall as the two blades connected. But for all of her preparation, Magebane was nothing if not proud. After all, how could a grubby, northern savage provide any real opposition? She did not expect the crude swing of a bold amateur to have so much force. Jala’s attack sent Magebane reeling, sword arm flying upwards under the impact and leaving her guard wide open. With her opponent on the back foot Jala swung in with a left hook. The punch connected hard with Magebane’s jaw and elicited a sound of popping sinew and grinding teeth.
Jala pressed the attack, moving in with another stroke towards Magebane’s chest. But for the second attack she was prepared, fully aware of the force behind the incoming blow. Jala’s sword skittered across blue wood as it met with a raised shield. With that simple block Magebane recovered her poise. Jala’s attacks came thick and fast, falling like lightning from the sky. But each and every one of them was met by a well-timed parry, deft block or graceful dodge. Then the tables began to turn. Magebane started to probe Jala’s defences. A quick flick here, an arced thrust there. Searching for a chink in the armour, a weakness to exploit and they were many, and varied. For Jala did not have the same grace and skill at parrying as her opponent. A fight in the North was over in seconds, because that was the way it had to be. One quick slice to a nice fat vein and then let the bastard bleed a bit, stove their head in with a rock and move onto the next foe. Precious few of Magebane’s strokes were met with a sword, for Jala favoured the more logical and practical school of “getting out the bloody way.” A dance with such fast and rapid steps is hard to keep up for long, even more so when you’re unsure of who is leading and you have to keep guessing where you’re supposed to be. In such a dance a misstep is inevitable. Magebane feinted an upward swing, Jala leaned backwards pulling her head out of its expected arc. With a fluid flick of her wrist, Magebane turned it into a thrust. Off balance, Jala had nowhere to go. The Bastard Sword bit deep into Jala’s armour, the blade slicing through leather and cloth and into Jala’s flesh.
Pain swept through her body, like her very nerves had burst into flames. Muscles contracted, spasmed and seized as eldrtich agony poured through every fibre of her being. Jala’s head and arms raised to the sky, almost pleading. A rapidly spreading cloud of inky blackness began to creep over Jala’s vision, like a falling shroud and the cold end. Thoughts of anger and rage and hate evaporated away into a thin and intangible mist, all reason and tactics boiled away like the night ices of the Old North. All things fled before that one, lone undulating scream that echoed from the very pit of Jala’s soul.
With her arm still out-thrust Magebane smiled, her lips creasing into a dark and perverse mockery of a smile.
“It hurts doesn’t it?” she whispered “An exquisite symphony of pain and nightmare.”
Jala’s eyes began to roll back in her head, her mouth still held agape in an unending howl.
“Goodbye little barbarian, it’s all over.”
The words of Magebane slowly drifted through the soupy sea of Jala’s pain, being swept up in the maelstrom of her mind like leaves in a hurricane. They did not reach the conscious and thinking being that was Jala, daughter of Quyren, for that creature was being rent and shredded by the arcane sufferings of the blade which had wounded her. Instead the words reached something else. Something deeper. Something primal. They reached the hot and angry core of that which was Jala. The place where the dark rage and cold fires of hate slept, caged beneath the congenial necessities of the human condition. The words reached the monster that dwells within all of us, and it did not like what it heard. Not, one, bit.
Magebane was close to Jala now, slowly sawing her blade into the wound it had made a hair’s breadth at a time, savouring the moment before the kill. Jala’s snapped her elbow downward, trapping Magebane’s sword arm and the blade it held tight against her side. With great effort Jala lowered her head and met her gaze. Shock was writ large in Magebane’s eyes and the slight gape in her mouth. This was not supposed to happen.
“It’s over, when I say it’s over.” Hissed Jala through clenched teeth. Quite without warning Jala brought her forehead down upon Magebane’s nose with all the thundering force of a falling mountain. Jala could feel the cartilage tear and bone shatter as her skull crushed into Magebane’s face. The faint feeling of wet jelly beneath the skin, the yielding of flesh. They were good feelings.
Magebane’s staggered back, sword limp in her hand as she instinctively reached out toward her ruined nose, touching tentatively at the blood flowing down her face and over her lips. She gazed back towards Jala with something approaching fear. There was nothing human in those Jala’s eyes now, just a bestial hunger, a feral madness. She let out a guttural roar, the noise was hungry and entirely animal.
Blow after blow, Jala laid into Magebane with a fury not of this earth, for the Blood-fever was upon her. She lashed out with a hail of limbs and steel too fast for the eye to follow. Her sword licked across Magebane’s flesh, leaving a criss-cross trail of welling blood; it gouged at her armour, tearing great rents at the leather. Jala’s blows hammered down upon Magebane’s shield, the wood bucked and shook, but refused to splinter.
Magebane fled before Jala’s relentless advance, scant moments before she had victory within her grasp, but now she was being driven across the Great Hall as if she had never held a sword before, stumbling past tables and staggering around columns. She sent out short, darting flicks with the tip of her sword, as if trying to whittle away at Jala. The blows sliced thin little cuts into Jala’s forearms and the meat of her thighs. Each cut seared into the barbarian’s body like hot iron, Magebane could see the slight wincing in Jala’s eyes. Yet still she came on, The Bastard Sword’s sting barely slowing her pace.
It took every ounce of Magebane’s skill to prevent her losing a limb. Jala had no skill or finesse to her strokes but sometimes you don’t need to. After all, no amount of riposte, parry or daring quarter circle slices are going to save you when faced with a herd of stampeding rhinos. Her skin was slick with blood, everything stung and her vision was still blurred from the breaking of her nose. Magebane knew that if she were to survive past the next few minutes she would have to get an edge, any sort of edge.
The point of Jala’s sword swept across her face, missing her eyes by nothing more than a breath. The swing went wide, the edge clattering into a pillar and raising a shower of sparks. As the steel skittered across hard grey stone, before it could even rebound, Magebane slammed her shield onto the flat of the blade, pinning it to the column. The blade flexed and twisted as Jala sought to pull it free, but it was caught, its edge trapped within the crack of the great red jewel at the heart of Magebane’s shield. With a great heave, Jala tore her blade free, but not all of it came loose. As the sword twisted in Jala’s hands the metal gave, finally buckling under intolerable strain, weakened by a lifetime’s worth of nicks and notches. It shattered, leaving Jala with less than a foot of broken, jagged metal in her hand. Her maddened eyes gazed at the broken blade, confused and not quite comprehending what had just happened.
“Not so tough with a broken sword are you?” Panted Magebane.
Jala glared at her and slashed out with the stump of her weapon. The jagged fragments of steel cut through the flesh of Magebane’s cheek, tearing a ragged groove across her face all the way to her forehead.
“Bitch!” Magebane screamed “Bitch! Bitch! BITCH!”
The wounded tyrant lashed out wildly with her shield, the hard metal of its rim slamming into the side of Jala’s head. It sent the northern barbarian reeling, like a ship caught in a storm. The battle-fugue that had gripped her mind began to lose its hold on her. Her head spun, she struggled to stay on her feet, her balance lost and her skull ringing like a thousand bells.
Still she fought on, but her blows were slow and sluggish, easily avoided by an opponent who looked like nothing more than a fuzzy blur. Magebane waded in with long overhand swings, slowly slicing away at the dazed barbarian. Jala lashed out at every twisting shadow and dancing blur. But with her sword so shortened, Magebane had the advantage of reach, easily staying well clear of Jala’s desperate, frenzied swings.
The blow came in without warning, slamming hard into the steel of her armour. Plates buckled, caved in by the force of the swing and as they failed, they took with them the ribs they protected. A howl of tortured metal, a cracking of bone. Stunned and gasping for breath Jala’s frenzy finally died. Shakes over took her arms as her adrenaline fled from her and the toll of blood loss began to make itself known. Her broken sword fell from her hands, clattering to the ground with a deep, sonorous clang. Thought and humanity returned to her eyes, and they were met with a hearty kick to the chest.
It drove what little wind was left from Jala’s chest and sent her into the air. Falling with a thump, then sliding and rolling across the cold flagstones. Jala lay on her back, prone and immobile, each breath a wet rasping gulp. Everything hurt.
Magebane coughed and spat a thick, mouthful of blood onto one of rumpled carpets. She grinned slightly, her bright teeth now stained a pale pink. Slowly and wearily she trudged towards Jala, her arms loose and heavy.
“Time I put you out of your misery girl.” Magebane wheezed.
The footfalls echoed through the Great Hall. Slow, steady and inevitable; the oncoming portent of death. Jala’s aching fingers reached out across the cold floor. They reached out for anything. Anything she could hold or swing. A candlestick, a chair leg, she would even settle for a spoon right now. But they found nothing. Her questing fingers retreated back, sliding into a leather bag on her belt and gripping what was within. The fingers found comfort, and memories.
Everything went black…
Our special two-parter concludes next Monday. Same barbarian time, same barbarian channel.