Karzo awoke in solitude, an unfamiliar sensation after so many mornings surrounded by his siblings’ chatter. The small confines of his home flashed in his memory, as did the face of his mother. She would be filled with worry, he realized, as this was the first night he hadn’t returned.
The urgency to see her and explain everything became his driving force. He reached for the gift he had received just the previous day: the sword that shifted his bond with the light. Dragonboner, forged in the legendary Backdoor Forge, felt mighty even sheathed. But its true divine power was evident only when the blade was being swinged.
Quietly, he left the inn before its other occupants stirred. He had to reunite with his mother and provide the answers she sought.
However, as he approached the stables, intending to retrieve the horse he and Axoje had used for their escape, he found unfamiliar men tampering with it.
“What are you doing?” he challenged.
The men turned, sizing him up. “Ah, the boy with the paladin’s sword,” one remarked. “We’re here to reclaim what belongs to us.”
“It was given to me,” Karzo countered, hand instinctively resting on his sword’s hilt.
One smirked. “We’ll see.” He raised his weapon.
Drawing Dragonboner, its blade gleamed brilliantly. Unfazed, the men stepped out, encircling him. “No need for this,” Karzo cautioned.
“Hand over the blade, and you’ll remain unharmed,” they bargained.
But Karzo wouldn’t yield, ready to defend his treasured possession, even if it cost his life.
One man’s patience snapped, lunging at Karzo. Unprepared, Karzo was nonetheless protected by an unseen force. Dragonboner clashed with the assailant’s weapon, severing its tip effortlessly.
The men, witnessing their comrade’s blunted sword, were filled with rage. They charged simultaneously. Yet, as Karzo defended himself, he noted the unseen force aiding him once more. The men were formidable, but against Dragonboner’s wielder, they struggled. Karzo’s skill surged with every parry, every dodge.
Gradually, the men’s vigor waned, and Karzo, without causing grievous harm, managed to disarm them. One, panting hard, warned, “We’ll return with reinforcements.”
Karzo stood tall, replying, “I’ll be ready.”
The afterglow of the fight left Karzo feeling invincible. He realized his encounter with the orcs wasn’t sheer chance. Dragonboner had depths yet to be explored. With the skirmish behind him, thoughts of his mother returned. He swiftly mounted the horse and galloped onwards.
99Karzo still couldn’t grasp the peril of his situation. After his encounter with the orcs, rumors spread at an alarming rate. It didn’t take long for word to get out. A mere youth from a village had halted an orc horde. The sword, forged for a kingdom’s heir, was now safeguarded by just one individual.
Many coveted the prized blade. Across the seven kingdoms, only a few smiths could meld metal with light. Even among them, reproducing such a marvel was near-impossible. Light-blades were treasured relics, their allure heightened by their fleeting existence—some tales spoke of such blades lasting a century before waning.
Only heirs of grand kingdoms typically had the chance to wield these swords. Thus, Dragonboner quickly became the prize all sought.
News spread like wildfire. Few remained unaware of the worldwide race among warriors, Karzo among them.
Dawn’s light brushed against his skin as Karzo galloped across a vast green meadow. It was then he spotted a legionary from the Eternal Winter Kingdom stationed near Wasiqa—the very village from which the news and Karzo had sprung.
Gus smiled, spotting a rider in the distance. He quickly drew the Soul Eye, a magical artifact, from his coat. It enabled him to gauge a person’s light power. Pointing it at the distant rider, the device trembled intensely. Gus grinned again, “Luck seems to favor me today.”
Without hesitation, he grabbed the massive lance from his back, intending to charge directly at the rider he suspected was Dragonboner’s wielder.
Karzo realized the stranger’s intent too late. They were now too close for him to even think of fleeing. Slowing his steed would only make him an easier target.
Gus’s lance tip remained steady despite the challenge of the galloping pace.
Karzo shifted, placing his feet on the saddle, crouching low to remain inconspicuous, all the while striving to maintain balance.
Gus grinned, believing a single thrust of his lance would end the skirmish. But then, he saw the rider leap. The audacity! A fall… Gus watched, stunned, as the youth soared over his lance’s missed thrust.
Karzo saw the ground rush up to meet him, and no manner of landing seemed right. The meadow whizzed by beneath. The initial contact would be brutal. He raised his arms and spread them out, parallel to the ground, bracing for the crash. Instinctively, he swung his right hand to his left shoulder, letting his momentum carry him. As Karzo hit the ground, he rolled with surprising ease, ending upright. Drawing his sword mid-turn, he prepared for the worst.
Gus discarded his lance, spun his horse around, and galloped toward Karzo. He unsheathed his own blade, Winter’s Dusk—crafted by one of the blacksmiths of the Stormhammer Clan, the sole smiths skilled enough to meld light into a blade—though the outcome was less remarkable.
Karzo steadied himself for the onslaught. Breath focused, body primed. Every muscle taut, predicting the next move. He saw the charging horseman—one hand on the reins, the other holding the raised blade. There was no other way. To survive, he’d have to dismount the rider. But how…
Gus grinned again, leaning to one side, readying to strike his foe.
Karzo ceased seeking a solution and surrendered wholly to the light. Then he darted to the other side.
As Gus tried to shift his strike, he felt his steed halt abruptly on its front legs. Unprepared, he was thrown off.
Karzo rose to see the rider tumble a mere few paces away. Gus scrambled to his feet, retrieved his sword, and advanced on Karzo.
“So you’re the current bearer of Dragonboner,” Gus said, approaching. “Not for long.”
Karzo parried the first strike with ease. “Do you think you’re fit to battle?”
Gus’ stormy steel armor was soiled from the fall. His right shoulder appeared injured from the tumble, and his blade’s motions lacked their earlier precision.
“I am Gus, a legionnaire from the Frost of Oblivion front, a member of the Eternal Winter Kingdom’s army,” the soldier announced. “I challenge you to a duel for that sword.”
Dragonboner gleamed in the morning sunlight. “I accept,” Karzo responded, fully aware of the situation he found himself in. “Tell any who are interested that I am willing to face a fair duel to earn the right to wield my sword.”
Gus paused, clearly shaken from the fall. He then sheathed his sword and clutched his right shoulder with his left hand. “Very well, young one,” Gus stated. “We will meet again here in seven days.”
Karzo watched the soldier mount his horse. “I’ll be waiting, Legionnaire Gus.”
Suddenly, thoughts of his mother flashed in Karzo’s mind, and he noticed his horse had taken off, probably heading back to the stable from where he and Axoje had borrowed it. Deciding to continue on foot, he wondered what other surprises the day had in store for him.