Dagger Of Kija
They were greeted in Kugnae by the sounds of celebration. A tremendous crowd had gathered around the field south of the Tree of Refection. There were colorful banners and even a few vendors circling the crowd. A waist-high platform had been build and several prominent citizens stood there addressing the people.
"You don't think..." Gareth began, but no one in the crowd seemed to pay the two any particular attention. "No, it couldn't be."
Pteri sketched her husband a tense smile. She seemed to be close to her limit of endurance. First, using the Dagger under Kija's command without a break for days, and then shielding the Dagger from causing anyone additional harm.
All around them people were hurrying to join one group or another in front of the platform. Each group seemed to be made up of different paths, and Gareth quickly scanned the Warriors to see if he recognized any of them. Oddly enough, he didn't.
"Seems to be an event for youngsters," Gareth guessed. "Judging by the average size of those Warriors."
A small Warrior in plate mail was hurrying past. "Greetings, friend," he said with a smile. "Can you tell me what is going on here?"
Under all that armor was a woman, and when she tilted back her helmet, Gareth recognized the face.
"Rowann?" He exclaimed as she unbuckled her helmet and adjusted her weapons with the ease of years of practice. "Why are you dressed as a Warrior? You are a Mage!"
"Gareth?" The General of the Royal Kugnae Army smiled at her old friend. "I expected to see you over in that group of Poets. Ugliest bunch I've ever seen!"
Gareth glanced at the poet group and agreed. Poets were usually well behaved or at the very least... clean. This group of huge unshaven men and muscular woman looked extremely out of place clutching Star-staves and threatening to burst the seams out of robes meant for slighter frames.
"Those are Warriors!" Gareth recognized some of the faces at last. "Has everyone gone insane?"
Rowann laughed, then began running a sharpening stone across a steel blade that looked twice her size.
"Usually when something crazy happens," she explained, squinting down the length of her blade with an expert's eye, "I expect you were behind it. I am surprised that you don't know... or even somehow caused... the Inter-Path games."
It all made some weird sense. The Poets were all playing Rogues and the Rogues were Mages. Gareth shook his head in wonder. It was all due more or less to the Dagger of Kija that Pteri clutched so tightly. Time was running out, if only there was some way to destroy that Dagger, Gareth thought, seeing how weak his wife was getting.
"If the two of you are going to join the games," Rowann scabbarded her sword, "You had better hurry and register. They promised the combat to begin as soon as your clock strikes twelve."
Gareth began to protest that it wasn't his clock, but stopped suddenly. He stood there, mouth open for a long time considering his idea.
"Your plan, dear," Pteri smiled weakly at her husband. "You have that look about you."
Working out the details must have taken some time as Rowann had joined her group of former Mages, saying that she would "show those fighters how to really use whirlwind!"
The red-clad Do shrugged at the activities surrounding him. People always find a way to have fun even when the world seemed to be crumbling. The melding of paths might just be an amusement to them, but to Gareth it meant the breaking down of barriers. If the magic separating Poet and Warrior was gone, how much longer before the magic itself collapses and becomes unusable? Magic needs rules; who can learn, who can cast - if some of these change, who is to say?
"Gareth, we have to hurry!" Pteri gasped and they headed north away from the Inter-Path Games. It was cruelly ironic, Gareth thought, that the citizens of the Kingdom were celebrating the very thing that was slowly killing his wife wife. In short bursts of words, Pteri told him what trying to control the Dagger was like. Her most memorable phrase was "Like trying to stop a landslide with a cardboard sign reading "Stop!""
"From the moment the Dagger entered the Kingdom," Pteri explained. "It had been 'feeling' its way... digging into the structure of the world and changing it as it wished. The creator must have been naïve in thinking he could control the Dagger, for every change it made seemed to give it more power."
"Like a paper wasp!" Gareth suddenly realized. Pteri stared at her husband, blankly, waiting for the inevitable explanation. "Leave a scroll sitting out where wasps build and soon you will have no scroll at all, just a magnificent wasp palace! The Dagger is rebuilding the Kingdom in its own way, just like a wasp!"
Pteri raised an eyebrow, not bothering to comment. The strain was showing vividly on her face.
"You think too much," she replied at last. "I just hope for all our sakes that you have been thinking about how to stop the Dagger. I don't suppose it will be as easy as handing it to a smith and asking him to make it into a bracelet?"
Gareth tried to laugh confidently, but it rang false even in his own ears.
"No, I don't think so, either."
They stopped in front of a crude stone tower with a small wooden door recessed in the thick wall.
"Watch your head," He cautioned, opening the door, easily on silent hinges. Although the building looked like it was made from rough quarried rock, the Gods had in fact, made it and some parts of it seemed unworldly- like a door that refused to creak. "This place must have been designed by someone as short as me."
Pteri ducked until the lintel and entered the tower.
"Most likely it was designed by you," she said quietly, watching the clock's pendulum swing majestically, back and forth beneath the iron gears of the movement. "I was paying attention, you know, when you and the Shaman were explaining the alternate history."
Gareth smiled up at his wife. She never ceased to amaze him, he thought. He decided that they didn't make her director of that research facility just for her good looks.
"You can probably guess why we are here," he led her up the stairs to the tiny space behind the workings of the massive clock.
"Yes, but I admit that I don't see how you can use this to destroy the Dagger," she admitted, slumping down against the wall.
Lucky for me, Gareth thought that folded up, my tall wife doesn't take up much room. And equally lucky, my Do training slimmed me down some and increased my flexibility tremendously. A guy could lose skin trying to fit into this space.
"Let me show you," he picked up a heavy brass wrench, probably left here from earlier experiments at disassembling the clock, experiments that failed dramatically.
Watching the hour wheel move forward almost imperceptibly, Gareth chose a spot inside the gear, close to where it overlapped the escapement. That smaller escapement wheel ticked ahead with every swing of the pendulum, as the pallet, released it to snap forward. A tiny finger width space separated them and this was where Gareth quickly shoved the thick brass wrench.
"Gareth!" Pteri cried out in alarm, "You will break those gears!"
Gareth shook his head, waiting silently for the slow return of the pendulum.
"Tick!" The pallet released the escapement and it turned to its next catch.
There lying in Gareth's hands was the wrench, sheared into two pieces.
"It didn't break!" Pteri stared at the pieces, then touched the smooth edge. "One moment it was one piece and the next it was two."
Gareth chuckled, having performed this experiment before; he knew it was dramatic the first time you saw it.
"As if cut by time itself," He mused, confidently. "Now, lets get rid of that annoying dagger."
Pteri lifted it away from her chest, where she had been clutching since they had vanquished Kija. She raised it slowly to her husband, as if it had great weight.
"Gladly," she agreed, nodding. "Just don't hold it too long. The Gods know what damage it could do to you."
Gareth raised an eyebrow, and wondered what damage it had already done to her. Why would she be worrying about me holding it for just a few seconds, he asked himself.
Having handled hundreds of daggers in his smithing days, Gareth still was taken aback by the surprising weight of the Dagger of Kija. Reconsidering, he decided it wasn't 'weight' exactly, more properly, it was inertia. The dagger simply refused to move from the spot Pteri had let go until the stout warrior made a considerable effort.
Straining the powerful muscles in his arms to the limits, Gareth lifted the reluctant dagger towards the gears.
A chill ran down Gareth's back. An almost unfamiliar feeling he eventually realized was doubt. He was suddenly not so certain that the Dagger could be destroyed.
He looked back at his wife, hoping that she hadn't seen his moment of uncertainty. She had slipped down the wall, weakly. Gareth guessed that just having it out of her hands was not enough to cure her of the Dagger's influence.
"Perhaps after it is destroyed," Gareth thought, resolve firming again in his mind.
A small movement inside the tower caught at Gareth's attention. He snapped his head around with Do quickness, but there was nothing, until at the edge of his vision, he saw it again. Whipping his head back the other way... still nothing was there.
"Don't worry about it," Pteri cautioned, her eyes half closed. "You wont have time to get used to it. I think it is just the action of the Dagger on the world. Very nasty."
Gareth examined the effect. If he stared straight ahead and unfocused his eyes a bit...
It became clear what he was seeing. At the very edge of his vision, the world was... curling up, almost like a scroll ready to roll back into a tube. Gareth thought that with a little pressure of Will, he could easily tear the fabric of the world itself.
He resolved not to test this.
"Strange," he summed up, with characteristic understatement.
He returned to forcing the Dagger slowly towards the hour wheel.
"Tick," the clock said, as the escapement wheel moved forward, opening a space wide enough for the Dagger blade. Gareth pushed hand, sliding it between the gears.
"You ready?" He asked, glancing down at his wife, but she seemed asleep. Asleep? Now? "Wake up! One more swing and its over."
The pendulum reached its full arc and the pallet was lifted...
"Tick," said the clock.
The Dagger of Kija remained in one piece, firmly wedged between the descending escapement wheel and the hour gear.
"Oh, no," Gareth frowned, just beginning to wonder what had gone wrong, when he realized that the pendulum had not stopped swinging!
As the immense weight of the pendulum reached its apex again, the pallet slowly raised.
"Tick!" said the clock, this time more insistently.
Still the Dagger remained in one piece.
Gareth stared fascinated, as the pendulum continued its stately arc. In a moment it was again at it's highest.
"TICK!" the clock shouted and a metallic groan came from the Dagger, but it stubbornly remained whole.
"Dear," Gareth whispered to his wife's still and quiet form lying next to him. "I think we should run."
The pendulum swung back, gathering speed and Gareth somehow knew it was preparing for battle.
He picked up his silent wife's limp body and jumped from the stairs. As the pendulum reached its apex again, he slammed into the door with his shoulder, smashing it open and falling headfirst onto the lawn outside.
"TICK!" Screamed the clock.
Deep within the clock there was a snapping sound, then a moment's quiet.
Gareth nearly decided to try getting to his feet, but soon was happy he hadn't, for out of the door of the tower roared a black cloud, slamming him hard against the ground, flowing over him and quickly dissipating.
When the pressure finally let up, Gareth chanced a glance up at the tower. It appeared unchanged.
"Who won?" Pteri asked, slowly coming back to consciousness.
Gareth slowly pulled himself up into a sitting position and raised his wife up onto his lap, where he could hold her as he checked surreptitiously for injuries.
"No idea," he shrugged. "But SOMETHING broke inside the tower."
Pteri snuggled comfortably under her husband's arm and closed her eyes. Gareth didn't know if it was a good idea for her to sleep or not, but looking down at her exhausted face, he decided not to disturb her.
"Try a spell," she suggested sleepily.
Gareth berated himself for his stupidity. Of course, he thought, if the Dagger won, then everything would still be the same.
An inquisitive bunny was hopping along the city wall and Gareth held out a hand, concentrating his Will, calling fire with the teapot-warming spell.
Although he could remember the spell, remember using it and how to invoke the magic... nothing happened.
Pteri cracked an eyelid and looked up at her husband.
"I was just wondering," he informed her. "What was happening right now at the Inter-Path Games?"
"Bong!" cried the clock... somehow, triumphantly.
Although Gareth asked several times about the Dagger, during the long walk back to their home in Buya, Pteri remained silent. She never let go of his hand, however, so the stout warrior chose to count his blessings and not complain. Instead he settled into the wonderful glow of the bond, which he could once again clearly feel through his Love ring.
Gareth didn't know what to expect at the city gates, but it was still quite a surprise to see the gate guards standing at attention. Before his ego got a chance to assert itself, he noticed that there were others waiting expectantly just inside.
He raised an eyebrow.
"This is... unusual," Pteri observed, glancing at the receiving line of Phoenix Clan members, Do and Shaman and centermost in the group was a very casually dressed Princess Lasahn.
"Welcome back, Gareth and Pteri," she smiled. "Congratulations, you two."
Pteri dug a delicate, though surprisingly sharp elbow into Gareth's side.
"I thought you mentioned something about being exiled?" She asked, ignoring the Princess and the rest of the group.