a Mother's Touch

There was a clang of steel and a familiar pain in my arm, the ringing sensation of stayed swords. I could feel the Ixion’s eyes boring into my own, his avian face almost inches from mine.

“You’ve done well, Guard,” his voice cut through my thoughts, invading the privacy of my mind once more.

I knew what he meant, that my sword was the source of his congratulations. I spared a quick glance at it, all the while my muscles aching from holding my opponent’s blade steady with mine.

It was indeed a magnificent piece of iron work, a flamberge complete with intricate ornamentation across all the subtle undulations of the edges. In the sunlight it seemed almost gilt at times, criss-crossed in colours of gold. This decoration continued through the cross guard and hilt, all of which appeared to be carved from ivory, with inset stones of opalescent obsidian.

It’s funny how fast the mind’s eye perceives things of beauty, even under the stress of combat.

The Ixion lurched backwards, propelled by a great beat of his wings and still dangling just above the ground. Again I felt as if he were smiling, though his beaked features remained stagnant.

“Your Lady will be quite proud of you.”

“Milady?” my answer came orally this time, the phrase automatic. After saying the word something seemed to click, an image drawn from a chaotic collage.

She appeared, that same woman again and again: no longer in the frozen forest, but still wrapped in white, soft silks that flowed from her hips and shoulders. She sat amid towering pillars of marble, laced with faint wrinklings of black. The moths were there, too, flitting about outside, framed by a window in the wall. They descended, and she smiled, but her white eyes did not blink.

“Milady,” I whispered, sword almost slipping from my hands.

“She’s proud,” the Ixion intoned through my mind, “but she’s not here for you. Your death is coming, Guard.”

His words were my only warning, as his wings brought him back before as quickly as they had taken him away, sword extended and tipped towards my heart. My own rose to meet his, batting it away with experienced ease. I stepped aside, anticipating a blow from his body. My sidestep allowed him to pass by me in a rush of fluttering feathers, but I had forgotten his extra avian appendages.

A wing clipped me in the side, sending me spinning to the ground. My sword flew from my hands, arcing in a glittering curve that sent it tumbling to the ground, far from my reach.

From the corner of my dazed eyes I saw the Ixion finally alight on the ground, saw his taloned feet pace steadily towards me. I tried to raise myself from the ground, but found myself pinned. Cursing, I remembered the image of the clawed hand outstretched, stopping javelins in midflight.

Magic.

“Your Lady has sent you for an artifact,” the avian mocked, still speaking to my mind. I assumed that was the only way he could communicate with me, his beak incapable of forming common words. “You cannot retrieve it, though, and neither can we Ixion.”

His face loomed above me, my back to the sod and the soil.

“We leave it where it fell, respecting the power that it holds.”

The blade of his sword shone in the sunlight, appearing almost to be a rod of white flame, ready to kill and cleanse in an instant.

And drawn to that light, a clutter of moths wheeled about the blade, spinning in an elaborate dance around the shining steel. The avian seemed oblivious to them, and continuing his tirade of unspoken words.

I couldn’t discern them, though. It was as if there was a damp cloth muffling their sound, and I could only stare up at his stoic visage as the moths moved from the blade up his arm and eventually to his should and neck.

One moth ventured before his face, flitting before his eyes just as his blade came rushing towards my throat. My eyes screwed shut only moments after his widened, afraid to bear witness to my own impending death.

I waited.

And waited.

But the blow never came.

I opened an eye reluctantly, and saw the Ixion’s face frozen as I had last seen it, stony features paired with the wide eyes, now almost glassy in appearance. The moth was still there, beating its smoky wings and staying in place, like a hummingbird at its flower.

My other eye soon followed suit of the first, eyelids parting to allow the light of the sun to cascade in one more. And what I saw caused my own eyes to widen in an echo of the avian’s.

Though the moths still moved about it, his sword was frozen a hair's breadth of my throat.

“I have spared you, my son,” a feminine whisper breezed through my consciousness, the picture of my Lady finally whole.

The End

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