Saturday, May 1, 2010

I'm standing at the foot of a step pyramid, when the body of a slain man with a chalice in his hands lands in a sprawled pile at my feet. I look up to see from whence he fell, to find a group of angry men with swords descending the steps of the pyramid slowly. Behind the warriors, is a giant stone head of a gorilla atop the pyramid. I quickly glance at the cadaver at my feet, and the ivory chalice it was previously clutching is now just a shoddy tin cup. Immediately I'm surrounded by combat, and a woman yells to me
“We've lost our guide!”
She is a middle aged woman in a long brown coat, her gray hair neatly tied behind her head and a wooden pole in her hand, fighting off more men with blades. It becomes clear to me who is on each side in this battle, as the warriors above me rush closer. The angry men are the enemy, I have but two allies. The woman in the duster coat is one. The other guarding my back, she is a beautiful dark haired woman in bronze and leather armor, with a Spartan shield and broadsword. I don't have as much time to look at her as I want to, because my foes in front of me demand my attention. As I duck and dodge, I hear a voice speak that I know is coming from the stone ape's head.
“Give me back my cup, and I will aid you.”
While I am crouched low to avoid a strike, I grab the tin cup from the dead man's fingers and rush up the pyramid steps, bounding in a zigzag pattern past the swordsmen. Someone yells my name, and the enemies I have avoided give chase up the stairs of the pyramid. They fall behind, and I climb up the stairs using my hands and feet. Reaching my goal, I put the tin cup on top of the gorilla statue's head, and all of the swordsmen disappear. My companions look about in shock, amazed that their foes have spontaneously vanished. I look around from the top of the pyramid, and see an open temple built at the pyramid's base, with columns, frescoes, and tapestries. Besides the moon and stars only torches and candles in brass pole candle holders light the area. I know that it must be midnight. The temple and pyramid are atop a hill in the desert, the wind is blowing, and the desert stretches as far as I can see. The gorilla head speaks again, and we turn to listen. It's voice is deep, musky, majestic and powerful, like a gorilla might sound if it could speak.
“Take this as my gift, for you will need it.”
Out of nothing, a beautiful Indian style curved sword appears. It falls slowly after appearing in mid air, near the base of the pyramid. The gray haired woman in the long coat catches it. It is in a colorful jewel-encrusted golden scabbard, while the hilt itself seems to be made of bone or horn. From atop the pyramid, I peer down the open hallway of columns to see an ominous man approaching. He has short dark hair, a shirtless muscular body, and a face locked in an evil grin. He is carrying an abnormally long katana in a jet black sheath, and moving completely without sound. He looks almost perfect in body and form, except for the malicious aura emanating from his facial expressions. The middle aged woman is facing me, unaware of the fact that he is rapidly approaching her. She is occupied with the shamshir in her hands, still surprised that her foes have vanished and a jeweled sword has appeared out of nowhere. Just as she begins to draw the blade from it's scabbard to inspect it, I shout a warning and begin to run down the pyramid steps. Pulling the sword from the scabbard, she looks up to me as the evil looking swordsman behind her poses with his katana at hip level, pointed at her. She sees me pointing as I run, and turns around sword in hand. The first thing she sees is his jet-black scabbard connecting swiftly with the front of her face. The movement of the sword in his right hand follows that of the scabbard in his left. In one clean, swift move he has drawn his weapon, struck her with the sheath, discarded it, and slain her. She falls dead at my feet as I reach the pyramid's base, and my heart begins to pound. He gives me a nod of superiority and continues hi grin, obviously taking great pleasure in the kill. He steps back one step and gestures at the jeweled shamshir in her hands, as if for me to pick it up and take her place. Fresh blood drips from his blade as he takes another step back to give me room. I cautiously crouch down to retrieve the jeweled magic shamshir. Our eyes are locked on one another and my pulse is racing because I know that as soon as I enclose my hand around the hilt of the sword that he is going to attack and that I am not skilled enough to defend myself from him alone. I think of the other woman, the one in bronze armor, who is younger, beautiful, and armed. Without thinking further, I call out for her before I pick up the sword. Somehow I already know her name.
“Wanda!? Help me – he is going to kill me! Wanda?!”
For some inexplicable reason, her name is Wanda. Although this is the first time I have ever seen her, I don't need to be introduced. It's as if we already know each other – our relationship is already defined. She is Wanda, she is a warrior I can trust, a forever constant friend in my times of dire need, and I need her aid right now or this foe will slay me.
My eyes still locked with the villain's, I notice in my peripheral vision Wanda by my side, sword drawn and pointed at our foe, shield ready at guard position. Her bronze form fitting breastplate glistens, and the leather of her guard skirt sways slightly in the warm wind. He shuffles back a fraction of an inch and smirks at her, I stand up with the jewel encrusted sword in my hand. A non-verbal message has been communicated between Wanda and I, the two of us must fight this demon swordsman to the death. All three of us are sweating with anticipation, and our hearts and breaths move at the same tempo. I notice that his eyes quickly dart away from us and back to us – he is searching the room, and his eyes fall on a rack of swords hanging on display beneath a tapestry against the wall. Wanda advances a half step towards him, and I begin to regulate my breathing to calm myself,
“Slow down, wait for him to attack first. We stand a better chance if we work together.” I tell her, “Let him attack first and force him to choose which of us to fight, then the other one of us can attack his flank – let him make the first move.”
All of this is said between deep, regulated breaths, and as I speak he sidesteps toward the weapons on display, and slowly raises the point of his irregularly long blade to a position between Wanda and I. Then he slowly crouches down to draw a second sword from the display rack, a normal length katana, shorter than his first sword and an appropriate length for it's style, but still longer than anything I would feel comfortable wielding in one hand. As he moves deliberately to claim the second blade, his eyes focus on Wanda, not me. I know that I have a chance to attack him off guard if I can move quickly. I see that his shoulder and bare back will face me when he bends fully down to pick up the second katana. All I have to do is take one large step in and risk getting within reach of his long readied blade, if I am swift I should be able to strike while his attention is on Wanda. I now know he sees me as the lesser threat. So as he grabs his second weapon, in I go. With a wide step and a swift jab, I plunge my blade into his back, below the shoulders and between the ribs, higher than I aimed for. Before I complete that thought I am in the act of pulling my blade out, stepping back and swinging my sword in to a mid-left block. I'm in time by a mere fraction of a second. As soon as my blade touched his skin he had moved to counter-attack, with both swords. I managed to barely block the longer blade, and Wanda's sword interrupted the path of his second sword. Even though I blocked his sword with my full strength and my weapon in two hands, his blow came with such force that it pushed my sword up to my body, and he sliced a few centimeters into my shoulder as he pulled his katana away. All of this action, from his eyes leaving mine to watch Wanda as he drew his second sword to drawing away from his counter strike – all took under two seconds, but my mind was running faster than our movements despite the fact that he moved as faster than anyone I've ever fought.
In the next few seconds he unleashes a fury of flailing blows at me that force me to retreat backwards and dodge while blocking to avoid them all – simultaneously he flips his lower body into a well placed side kick that hits Wanda in the breastplate and sends her crashing over a stone table and into a tapestry. Our unnamed foe is now bleeding slowly out of the wound I had given him, and sweating profusely. Scowling at me, he speaks.
“What happened to 'Let him attack first?'”
I react slowly, with feigned pride, using the time to catch my breath and recompose my stance. I reply,
“I lied. I'm a cheater.”
I smirk apologetically, hoping that I can buy some time for Wanda to get up. It's too late, he attacks again and I can't defend quick enough. In less than a second he launches a volley of six strikes, alternating between his two blades, slash, slash, stab, stab, slash, slash. He lands a long cut across my abdomen, from my right to left, and lands a shallow stab in the upper left of my chest. I know that the blow was aimed at my heart, but it missed it's target. During his attack and my frantic defense I shout for Wanda's aid, his blows are too fast for me to block.
As I barely manage to avoid the last of his six blows, he takes one step backwards to catch his breath and I see that Wanda has stepped back into the fight. The tip of her sword is firmly embedded into his right shoulder, she has just made a desperate lunge from across the room. In the next half second he unleashes his wrath upon her, and although she defends far better than I managed to, she is still unable to react fast enough to make a counter attack. She needs to use her sword and shield in combined focus to defend herself. I'm tired, I try to catch my breath, regulate my heartbeat and check my wounds. I can hear the clash of steel and bronze. My wounds are bleeding very quickly, especially my stomach, and I can't seem to do anything to hold in the blood. When I look up, he is pulsing with rage and catching his breath. Wanda is still standing but her shield and armor are covered in cuts. I rush in to help in the fight, and while I close the distance between us he brings her down to her knees with a crushing blow that knocks her sword down and would have cut her in half were it not for her armor. I yell as I run, and he turns his blades toward me, crossing them in a stance that I don't recognize, crouching slightly in anticipation of my attack.
But as I approach instead it is he who attacks! He springs into the air and I hold out my sword defensively with the hilt in my right hand and my left on the flat of the blade. Our swords meet but I rush onward, have build up running momentum, while he had only a short leap at me. I push forward in an attempt to tackle him. I know that my only hope is to bring the fight to the ground, because in a sword fight his superior reach, speed, and skill will destroy me. He's not expecting this tactic, and I slam his back against a column and by either his surprise or my luck, one of his own blades slices backwards into his own left arm. I don't remember much of the details of the wrestling, but I know that I dropped my sword to get a better hold around his arms, and he dropped his second shorter blade to get a better grip on his original weapon. The wrestling is mostly a blur in my memory, bloody and sweaty, both of our wounds pouring crimson onto the temple floor.
Soon he manages to toss me aside, and I land next to the discarded katana. He gets to his knees and glares at me while I'm on my back, and grins like he did when he slew the middle aged woman. He raises his longer blade, but in an instant is on the defensive, blocking a blow from Wanda! She has recovered, and for a few seconds fights him solo again. While they exchange blows I stand up with the katana in my hand. Wanda no longer has her shield, it lies on the floor. The two of them are blade locked, pushing against each other, he is trying so push her off of the stone floor and into the desert sands. With all my remaining might, I step forward and swing the katana at him. I am not sure if he notices me before I hit or the instant I do, but my blow cleaves one of his arms clean off. As he loses his balance and shouts, I spin on my left heel and send a right side kick to his chest, and he is flung back into a column, then falls to the stone floor.
I step backwards and drop the katana in exhaustion. Wanda gasps and points behind me, and as I quickly look over my shoulder I see more of the swordsmen from earlier approaching from far away down the hall of columns. She picks up her shield, takes up a stance between me and the incoming enemies, and looks me over. She gives a compassionate and concerned look at me and my wounds, then notices something behind me
“Is he dead?” she asks, and as I turn back to check, to my amazement I see that the villain is in fact, not dead. With his extra-long katana in his remaining hand, he is doing a one-handed push-up to get up to his knees, attempting to get back on his feet! I take a breath, a few steps, and punt him hard in the ribs, and as he falls down I stomp his head with my heel, and call back to her
“Yeah, I think he's dead.”
I hope that he is. Wanda is preoccupied fighting off others and keeping them from me, but she soon throws down her attackers and runs down the hallway in pursuit of the remaining enemies.
“C'mon, I'm gonna go make sure that there aren't any left! I'll hold them off for you!”
These are the last words I hear her say, but I can continue to hear her clashing against more incoming foes as my vision blurs. Even my hearing becomes patchy and I feel dizzy and light headed. I can hear Wanda fighting but I can't even seem to speak properly. I'm in shock from blood loss, and I look down at my wounds to see that there is an enormous pool of blood at below me. The room is spinning, and my hearing goes out completely, I cry
“I'm wounded, help me.”
I can't hear a response. I shout
“Je suis blessé!”
I don't know if anyone hears, or understands me. I try to stand, but fall to the ground, and she catches me. Our relationship is defined again; She is Wanda, we have fought together, saved each other, and in that moment become eternally devoted lovers. I don't need to hear the words she says as her mouth moves, I know that she loves me. We don't need to kiss, or express our love aloud, it is all said between our eyes. She is smiling, tears pouring down her face and dripping into my wounds. As I feel the blood seep out of my body and onto hers, I know deep inside that our love is perfect, more pure than our combined blood and tears. Then I take a few breaths, tighten the hold on my bleeding stomach, the room spins and I die. Although I know that it cannot be real, I can feel it as the most real emotion I have felt in years. Then I wake up. I am covered in sweat, and though I know it was a dream, I still posses a feeling of truth, the feeling of having been loved, and loving in return.

Frank Sjodin

Helpless I do not know if good intentions prevail among the elected, among the appointed, leaving me apprehensive that the fate ...