This silverfiend is a small one, probably a juvenile. But it still stands as tall as a man on its four tree trunk-like legs. Shaggy, silvery wool covers its massive bulk everywhere except the bony, spiked plates that protrude from the crown of its skull.
I slide down the slope to Iceshaper and slice through its bonds. I help it to its feet and we both climb madly toward the top of the incline. The silverfiend roars and charges across the uneven ground toward us. I wonder why it is so clumsy to pounce from so far away, but as I glimpse back, I can see the answer. Beneath flaps of its mangy wool, the beast is emaciated. The dearth of prey has starved the young one and it is desperate. Still, it is a silverfiend. The measure of our greatest warriors is to singlehandedly defeat one. Its bones are renowned for their strength and a victorious warrior uses the bones to shape his blade, the true mark of a hero. But in the legend of Stollof, the hero is not wearing borrowed armour, dragging along a Dark One, trying to protect a small tree.
The silverfiend loses its footing briefly on the loose scrub of the slope and this gives us enough time to reach the summit. The trees in this copse are of the same kind as the Great Old Tree, the same as the sapling. I can feel a current of energy course around us and through the sacred tree.
Just below the plateau, the silverfiend snarls and hesitates, then tramples up toward us. I slip the rope harnessing Iceshaper off my wrist and shove the Dark One to the right, turning to face the creature with my blade drawn. Blessed Scion, in this sacred place, renew my strength.
The beast charges at me. My mind completely loses grasp of any course of action. I dive to the left as it pounds onto the plateau and in amongst the trees. It sniffs in my direction as I scramble behind a wide trunk. Soon it gazes in the other direction. Iceshaper is frantically trying to free itself from the sapling. The silverfiend charges toward the Dark One. Fear of the one failure I cannot allow takes hold and I run after it, channeling all my energy into gaining the silverfiend's attention and disrupting its charge. It is almost on top of Iceshaper, who falls face first trying to escape, the sapling still strapped to its back.
The silverfiend breaks its charge. It stares at the sapling, as if held in place. This gives me enough time to catch up. I bound onto the predator's back. My stone blade lacks the strength to penetrate its thick hide, so I plunge its point at three places beneath the bony plate atop its head. With each strike, the creature squeals in pain and bucks, but I manage to grasp its wool and hang on. I strike one more time and the silverfiend drops to the ground.
The energy of the sacred tree has been given life in this place. It flows through me as I match my will against the creature's. I sense Iceshaper as well, adding its will to mine. The silverfiend snarls in defiance then lies prone. I leap off its back and stand before it. It opens its mouth, exposing the vulnerable tissue in its upper palate that leads to its brain. I have done it. I have defeated a silverfiend. I am exhilarated as I level my blade toward its mouth.
Why? Iceshaper asks. Why do this?
It is defeated, I say. If only someone other than this Dark One could have borne witness.
You are going to drag its carcass back to a stronghold that may no longer exist when you get there? You have proven your mastery. There is no more honour to be gained.
I am furious with Iceshaper. How can it be so concerned to save this thing, yet be so willing to destroy my people? The silverfiend closes its mouth and purrs. This Dark One has cost me a chance at glory. The creature rises. It bows its head to me and begins walking through the copse away from us.
For a moment, I have visions in my head of the blade of silverfiend bone that should have been mine. I would have proven to all that I deserved to be a warrior, after so many had said I should not have existed. But it suddenly seems pathetic held up against the life of such a beautiful creature. I did not defeat it on my own. The Holy Essence helped me. Iceshaper helped me. And I had been willing to take a trophy that I did not truly earn.
Biting my lip to endure the pain, I pull Iceshaper to his feet and secure the sapling to his back.
We have work to finish, I say.
He looks at the blood-tinged, trampled brush left in the wake of the silverfiend, then nods.
I find the place in the copse the High Priestess described for me. It is a small circular clearing. Around us, tall trees grow thick and obscure the sky, but sunlight streams in through openings in the canopy directly above us. Blue and violet flowers cover the ground here except for a round patch of dirt at its centre.
Iceshaper stops at the edge of the clearing as I finally loose the sacred tree from his straps. He massages his shoulders.
No time to rest, I say. We must plant this tree.
I won't help you, he says.
This is not something that will harm you or your fellow Dark Ones. I understand my mission now. This is something different.
I open my mind to him, so that he may know what I now believe. The Blessed Scion knows that His current bodily form will die. Iceshaper is right. Our Faith cannot survive its current incarnation. Like the silverfiend, we must know when we are defeated. But this Holy Essence, planted in this ground, ensures that the Blessed Scion will survive, so that the Faith may grow anew. At that time, one day, Blessed Scion only knows when, the Faithful scattered by the Dark Ones will return. The tree will grow to be a new God. For a new age.
And that is why I will not kill Iceshaper. He is a part of this new age.
We work together here, digging a hole before planting the sapling and resodding the ground around it. When we are done, we stand on either side of the young tree, dirty and tired.
And what now? he says.
Perhaps I will take you back with me. You can be one of my thralls.
He arches an eyebrow, then laughs.
An ugly one, perhaps.
I scowl, ashamed at japing with someone who is still the enemy. Shaper of Ice. Dark One with a soul. I draw my blade. He flinches briefly, but then stands proud as I approach.
Perhaps this new god for a new age requires a new kind of warrior, I say. I cut away his harness. Iceshaper. I, as an impossible warrior, now fr—
What stopped Lindal in mid-sentence?
The conclusion to "A New Kind of Warrior" is coming up in Part 6.
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A New Kind of WarriorFantasy
Lindal has been chosen by her god to be the lone girl among her people's caste of divine warriors, giving her the power to sense and shape the natural world around her. Now fate leaves the last chance of salvation for her people in her hands. She mu...