Devon awoke as the sun was rising, a faint glow behind the mountains. Looking to his side he saw the others still asleep. He, himself, was much rested and gathered he must have slept through most of the day before and all the night. He had only been awoken once since the placing of his key crest, briefly, for a meal, then he had fallen back into sleep. It was a strange sleep, deep and dreamless. It was the most restful sleep he had had since his imprisonment at the ranch. Now he felt energized and decided that some training might be in order. It had been some time since he had indulged in true training exercises; he simply hadn’t had the time. But he had some time before the others would awaken, and he thought the training might help him get used to his new sword – he had yet to perfect his short sword technique, and it appeared he would not be acquiring a long sword at any point in the near future.
As quietly as possible Devon rose and crept toward the door. He opened and closed it soundlessly, thankful that the dwarf kept his hinges well oiled, and slipped into the dim light of dawn.
In the open space between the house and the river he took up his stance. He began with a series of basic sword draws and lunges. These were the basics of swordsmanship and had to be altered to suite each sword a fighter used. Short swords had a much quicker draw than he was accustomed to and he had, at first, found himself thrown somewhat off balance by the sudden release. This was obviously not good in a battle, so he practiced drawing the short sword until he knew by heart the length of time it took to clear the sheath. When he had completed this he began a series of exercises he had practiced for years now, working to adjust it to the shorter blade. Before each stance he re-sheathed his sword so that he would not lose his familiarity with its draw.
A half an hour into his routine he was becoming suitably comfortable with the adjusted thrusting techniques, but he still missed his long sword, missed the feel of the clean blade slicing through the air in a deep arc. The short sword lacked in both range and elegance of attack.
Engrossed in his training Devon did not notice the approach of another.
“Yer up, lad. Good, that’s good.”
Devon spun, but almost immediately he placed the gruff voice as that of Dirk and he sheathed his weapon.
Dirk smiled, “Don’t mind me. I’ve no wish to disturb your training. ‘Tis a sight to see – the work of a good swordsman.”
Devon shook his head and came closer to the dwarf. “I was almost finished anyway.” He admitted.
Dirk nodded in understanding, “Here” he handed Devon a sword cloth, designed to both polish and sharpen. Devon accepted the offered cloth gratefully and sank to the ground. He pulled out the sword and began to run the cloth over the smooth blade. After a moment Dirk settled down beside him.
“If you don’t mind me asking, where’d you come by that sword of yers?” The dwarf asked casually.
Devon’s expression became closed, guarded, and he eyed his companion warily from the corner of his eye. “I found it, why do you ask?”
Dirk seemed not to notice his sudden change in demeanor and continued in a friendly tone, “It just seemed to me, watching you, that your style seemed more suited to a long sword. You can’t have had that short sword long.”
The tension in Devon’s stance eased and he began to polish the sword once more, running his hand smoothly from hilt to tip, never the other direction, he stared out toward the forest. “I’ve not had it a month.” He confessed quietly, “I stole it off a Desian guard when I escaped the Palmacosta human ranch.”
Dirk turned his head to look at the young man, whose hand had tightened somewhat on the sword hilt. His look was one of sympathy, but not pity. “Then it holds unpleasant memories for ye as well.”
Devon gave a small nod, almost imperceptible. “I have to have a weapon... the short sword is... lacking, but it is better than no sword at all.”
“You couldn’t get another?” the dwarf questioned.
Devon shook his head, putting his sword away and returning the cloth to the dwarf, “I could not risk a return to Palmacosta, and no one in Triet had the means...”
Dirk watched him in silence for a moment and then smiled, “A man should have a sword he’s comfortable with. And ‘tis a shame to see such a talented and skilled swordsman wield such an inferior weapon. I could forge you another if you’d like.”
“I can’t pay you.” Devon said, a bit of disappointment in his tone.
“That’s alright. A true smith works for the love of his craft, not for monetary gain.”
Devon’s gaze darted to the dwarf. “Why are you doing this for me?” his tone was no longer suspicious, only a bit disbelieving.
“Dwarven Vow number two – never abandon someone in need.” The dwarf said confidently, “I’ve lived by that rule all my life, and I don’t intend to stop now.” He gave a half smile, “You’re a good lad. I’d like to help you, if you’ll allow me.” Their gazes locked for a moment, a silent conveyance of understanding, respect, and gratitude.
Finally Devon broke away, standing, and nodded solemnly once – there were no words that could properly express his gratitude to the smith - and then turned back toward the house. Dirk’s voice stopped him.
“There is one thing you could do for me.”
Devon turned toward him once more, the dwarf had stood as well but did not look at him, instead he stood with his eyes trained on the far horizon.
“My son... he went with the Chosen. I’d like to know how he is from time to time.”
Devon considered the dwarf for a long moment, “I cannot promise to search for him, for I have a quest of my own to complete, but if I happen across him in my journey I’ll be certain to send word.”
Dirk nodded, “That’s all I can ask.” He turned with a small smile and clasped Devon’s arm briefly, “Ye have my thanks, boy.”
Devon smiled, the first true smile he had given in more than a day, “And you have mine.”
The travelers were invited by Dirk to stay another day and rest while he forged a new sword. Devon was glad for an excuse to stay, he felt somewhat guilty for having pushed Melody so hard on the way here. He had urgent business, but perhaps they could afford to travel a bit slower now, especially since they would no longer be relying on the kindness of Aura.
True to his word Dirk spent nearly every hour working on the forging of a new sword for Devon. When he revealed the finished product, late that evening, Melody nearly gasped. It was a stunning sword – a work of art – the hilt was intricately carved with a pattern modeled after those on the hilts of Aura’s knives. The blade was clean and without blemish, so sharp it could shave the hair off a man’s leg or shred paper without pause. Devon accepted it gratefully and immediately took it outside to test it. He swiped it through the air in long sweeping slashes, cutting through cleanly with almost no sound. He tested the weight in his hand, twirling the hilt in his hand and then grinned. This sword was without equal, nearly perfect in every way. Tightening his grip he conducted a series of flawless and intricate maneuvers before sheathing the blade cleanly in its sheath.
Melody was suitably impressed, and even Aura looked mildly interested. Dirk just smiled.
“I knew ye'd have stunning technique in your own element.” He said softly, eyes sparkling, and Melody thought for a moment that maybe he was seeing not just Devon but also his own son. “You truly are a master of the long sword.”
Devon returned the smile, coming up to place his hand briefly on the smith’s shoulder in gratitude.
“A swordsman is only as good as his weapon – and it, only as good as the one who forged it. You are indeed an artisan.”
Dirk bowed his head in thanks. “Well, best be getting some rest then - you all have an early day tomorrow if you hope to reach Izoold within the week.”
“Yes.” Devon agreed, catching Melody’s gaze knowingly. This part of their journey was over, now the hardest part began. Now he must return to his home and form a plan to fight the Desians. Unconsciously his right hand moved to graze over his exsphere. Suddenly realizing it he moved his hand back to his side, but the action stirred a memory – something he had been meaning to ask Dirk about. As the women prepared to sleep he took the dwarf aside.
“Something troubling you?” the smith asked.
Devon wasn’t looking at him, he was staring at his hand and Dirk felt far less comfortable than he let on, he wasn’t certain he liked where this conversation was bound to go.
“My exsphere... when you first saw it, you said something...”
Dirk studied the young man. He couldn’t lie to the boy, but he couldn’t tell him the entire truth, it would make Aura’s later actions seem suspicious to a man of military training. “I said I’d only seen one other like it.” He admitted slowly.
Now Devon glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t turn to face him. Dirk found himself grateful for that; he wasn’t sure how much he would have kept to himself if he’d had to meet Devon’s serious gaze head-on.
“My son, Lloyd, possesses such an exsphere. It was his mother’s... and it was something special once. I don’t know if it still is – if it was different in nature or if there was some treatment needed to keep it as such, but it was very important to the Desians who killed his parents. They’ve long stopped looking for it now.”
“Why is it so important?”
Dirk shook his head, “I’ve no idea, and no desire to know. I only know it seems stronger than regular exspheres. And it must be very rare.”
“That must be why they kept such close watch on me...” Devon mused. For long moments he fell into moody silence; finally Dirk stirred beside him.
Dirk clapped his hand on Devon’s back, for he could not reach his shoulder comfortably, “There’s no point in worrying about it. You already knew they were looking for you, take comfort in the fact that, with the crest, the sphere is your ally not your enemy. Besides, you being tired will help no one.” He pointed out reasonably.
Devon nodded, shaking his worried thoughts from his mind. He would use their own weapon against them – and they would pay.
They awoke early, but by now Melody was used to this habit, and Devon no longer had to do much more than say her name to wake her. That was a relief because he had felt very guilty those first few mornings traveling with Aura. Melody found herself somewhat depressed as they ate, knowing that it would quite likely be the last time she saw Aura. She found herself wanting to drag her feet, but knew that wouldn’t be fair to Devon. Besides, the elf might very well just leave before she was done anyway. Gathering their few belongings the three travelers stepped outside, offering their thanks to Dirk, and bidding their goodbyes. After a moment Dirk returned inside to his work, but Melody stood next to Aura and stared down at her feet. The elf did not press, but simply stood beside her.
As if he could sense Melody’s need for closure and reassurance Devon, standing ahead of them in the clearing, nearly to the bridge, turned his head a little and called out to Aura. “So, where will you be heading?” he inquired easily.
“I’m going to search for Lloyd. If needed I will offer my services, if not I can at least send Dirk reassurances.” She responded in kind.
“He asked much the same of me.” Devon replied, his hand going to his new sword – it was a fine sword, a work of art, but deadly and strong. “I must go to Palmacosta to warn the Governor-General, but I will keep an eye out for him.”
“Then we go the same way.” Aura said casually, coming up beside him, “The Chosen has already passed through Triet and the desert ruins, her journey will bring her next to the eastern continent and Palmacosta.”
“Does that mean you’ll come with us?” Melody asked, her tone tinged with enthusiasm. As much as she enjoyed being with Devon, she had found herself saddened by the thought of the elf’s departure.
Aura smiled at her, but her eyes stayed on Devon, “If Devon has no objections.”
“Objections?” Devon gave a short laugh as he tugged back on the glove that would cover his exsphere, “Now why should I object to the company of a beautiful woman who also happens to be an excellent fighter?”
“Indeed.” Aura agreed expressionlessly, but Melody saw the sparkle in her eyes.
“Then I guess we’re headed back to Izoold.” Melody ventured.
“It’s the only port on the continent.” Devon said by way of agreement.
He was teasing her, but Melody didn’t mind. As they set out over the small bridge and through the Iselia forest she was just glad that Devon seemed his old self again.