Mud splattered as Lucas hit the ground, but he rolled using his momentum to spring up again. Around him blades flashed in the light as the clashed and hewed. An arm landed near his boot, and with a snort of disgust Lucas kicked it away. Behind him the elf he had been dueling reeled from the force of his blow. The long sword the elf had directed towards Lucas was now lodged in a tree trunk, rather than Lucas’s. With a bloody grin Lucas stabbed forward, his own hand-and-a-half blade piercing the weak armor of his opponent. With a gurgling scream the elf fell, life bleeding out into the earth. Lucas looked around, assessing the situation. Three enemies were alive, two fighting for their lives, one playing dead.

With a fast beating heart Lucas snagged Selena’s sleeve, pulling her to the side. “That one, did he see you? Recognize you?” with a frantic gesture towards the acting elf Lucas hissed his question. She looked at him, “Yes, I believe so.” With a satisfied nod Lucas pulled back slightly, “Good, he will live.” Selena nodded in agreement, understanding his plan. The two elves fell and Lucas communicated his desire to spare the third.

His soldiers understood and quickly fell into an act. “Are they all dead?” One man called brusquely. There was a brief shuffle as boots and blades poked and prodded bodies to see if any reacted. Lucas held his breath as they approached the live elf, but he didn’t react to the tip of a boot nudging his side. “Yes!” A second member of the team called. Lucas smiled and gestured for a swift retreat.

They had encountered the small scouting party on their journey to the front lines and Lucas ordered their destruction. Leaving the one was not only to spread rumors of the inept North, but also to ensure information pertaining to Selena’s betrayal reached the South. “Clean your blades.” Lucas’s abrupt words interrupted several merry conversations and a gloom settled over the party. Rags were produced to rub blood and gore from various blades. Lucas watched impassively as the elves around him were reminded that they had just taken lives.

He cleaned his own blade with precise movements, ignoring the growing unease as the other elves finished. He could see them watching him, observing his lack of emotion. Their own faces reflected fear, guilt, anguish even. Lucas knew that those were emotions they must soon become accustomed to, war left no room for compassion or innocence.

“Sir?” The hesitant voice called everyone’s attention, even Selena stopped wiping down her blade. Without looking up Lucas answered, “Yes?” There was a long pause and Lucas sensed the speaker was trying to gather enough courage to continue. “Sir, I was just wondering. . .” Lucas sighed impatiently, “Yes, What? Spit it out!” The voice was hurried now, stumbling over its words, “Sir, have you. I mean I was just wondering. Have you killed before?”

Lucas drew his rag down the blade once more, wiping the last traces of grime from the steel surface. “Why do you ask?”

“I’m sorry Sir, you just seem so comfortable with the blade you carry.”

“All Guardians are trained to clean and care for their swords.”

Another pause lengthened, but Lucas heard no movement so he looked up. Wide eyes greeted him as a dozen elves faced questions of morality. Selena stood to the side, watching him with interest. Lucas still remembered what she had once told him, “You have been touched by darkness.”

One of the small men, named Fletcher, spoke up again. “Yes Sir, but you seem contented with it and the lives is just took.”

“It took? It took no lives. I took the lives. Remember that, it is you who kills not your weapon.” Lucas crushed the urge to shift blame. He needed his comrades to understand what taking a life meant.

“Please sir, you haven’t answered.”

“Answered what?”

“Have you killed before?”

Lucas was amazed at the audacity of the elf speaking. He had not expected Fletcher to be so willing to speak up. “Yes, I have killed before.”

Selena narrowed her eyes, but said nothing. Quelled by his tone the other elves turned back to caring for their blades. Lucas met Selena’s gaze for a moment before flicking his eyes to the undergrowth, watching for any signs of movement. There was nothing except the slight swaying of leaves. A slight breeze wound its way through the forest, cooling the elves and bringing the scent of death with it.

"That way," Lucas pointed through the trees, "we are getting close."

With clean weapons the soldiers around him stood and marched through the trees. After retrieving their mounts they all set off in the direction Lucas had indicated. Each lost in their own thoughts.

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