An amused smile touched Hernando’s lips. “Oh? You’re the Giantkiller, are you?”
An annoyed look crossed Harper’s face as he drew a long, straight, thin sword with a large sulfurite crystal in the hilt. “Some people call me that, I suppose. It’s not a title I claim but I can’t take words out of other people’s mouths, either.”
“You Avaloni have such a strange fascination with giants. They’re just big.” Hernando eyed Harper’s sword and estimated it gave his opponent two and a half to three inches of reach advantage. He assumed a duelist stance and began circling the other man warily. “It’s not like they’re majestic like the griffon or powerful like the dragon. They don’t even symbolize an elemental power like the unicorn represents the Depths of Purity. Why a creature that is merely us, enlarged?”
“I don’t know.” Harper made an experimental lunge, feinting a downward cut that suddenly snaked sideways becoming a cut at Hernando’s left flank. The gold drinker back pedaled quickly enough to dodge the worst of the slash. However Harper’s reach and the unexpected nature of the attack was enough to lay open a shallow cut in spite of Hernando’s fast response. Harper returned to a guard position with a casual shrug. “I know the story of Arthur and the Brothers Walking but I’m not sure why the First and Forever King slaying a giant made fighting them the greatest achievement an Avaloni man can achieve. I’d rather leave that honor to him and seek my own path. I don’t think I’m worthy of the calling Arthur answered.”
Gold scabbed over Hernando’s wound in seconds. He probed it with his fingers for a second, more worried at how easily the blade cut through all three layers of clothes he wore than the wound itself. Harper was clearly a competent swordsman. But his opening attack was a poor match for the sword he was using. That kind of slashing attack would have worked better with a little more blade behind it rather than a narrow, straight weapon like Harper was holding.
On a hunch Hernando edged forward and feinted a high cut. Harper answered by raising his blade to block and riposted with a wheeling cut, snapping his wrist around as he lunged again to try and strike Hernando’s shoulder. It wasn’t the typical counter you’d expect from that kind of sword. Based on Harper’s last strike it was exactly what Hernando was expecting and, with no force behind his initial strike, he was able to shift and block it easily.
With a grim smile, Hernando followed Harper’s arm back towards the other man as he recovered his weapon. As Hernando expected, Harper recovered like he, too, was trained with a saber or similar backsword. Curved cutting weapons were, in general, shorter than straight cut and thrust weapons like Harper’s current sword. People who weren’t used to a longer weapon often lost control of their point and the blade went out of alignment, creating an opportunity to trap it against its owner’s body.
Harper wasn’t an exception. Hernando took full advantage of his opponent’s sloppy recovery, pushing Harper’s sword down until he was forced to drive the point into the floorboards to stop it so it wouldn’t cut his own leg. This was where Hernando’s shorter blade came in handy. It wasn’t stuck and he left the bind to slash upwards at Harper’s forward leg.
With a snappy throwing motion Harper sent the bead of fire in his left hand zipping down to touch the edge of Hernando’s saber where it exploded. A sudden gust of hot air whooshed past him. However the explosion had no force behind it and the heat seemed to focus in the saber blade, melting a hand sized section of it in the space of a breath and spattering molten bronze on the floor. Harper yanked his sword free of the ground and stepped past Hernando.
The gold drinker whirled in an attempt to keep the other man in sight but Harper was too light on his feet, staying just beyond Hernando’s left shoulder. For some reason he didn’t strike. With his saber destroyed and his reach even more reduced compared to Harper’s moving away didn’t strike Hernando as a good strategy. So he threw the full weight of his gold into his left foot and swept it out. With the weight shift added to the force of the spin his leg caught up with and toppled Harper, who did Hernando the disservice of falling on top of him. They both wound up on the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.
A mad scramble ensued where Harper tried to get back to his feet and Hernando tried to get a solid grip on him to keep him grounded. In the middle of the scramble a sharp pain shot up Hernando’s leg. Reflexively he pushed hard to shove the source of it away from him. He’d already put a fair amount of gold in his hands to help him drag Harper as he wished and as a result when he shoved Harper went rolling across the floor like a tumbleweed, elbows thumping, sword clanking, mouth cursing.
A deep cut had laid Hernando’s thigh open. Gold was slowly filling the wound in but it wasn’t moving as quickly as he’d expected. Grimacing, he got to his feet and prepared to lunge back into the fray but stopped short when he saw Harper. He’d gotten back to his feet and was back in his stance. Somehow he’d also changed weapons, his long thrusting sword gone, replaced with a shorter, wide bladed machete. The large sulfurite crystal in the handle glowed brightly but the weapon had no fuller or other way to release it’s power. It was hard to tell from a distance but the crystal looked exactly like the one in Harper’s previous weapon.
Hernando barked a short laugh. “Silver? You bring a silver sword to challenge a gold drinker?”
“’Those who mix blood with gold think they take in the king of all metals,’” Harper said in a flat, absent tone. It sounded like a memory given voice. “’But the truth is that gold is the most promiscuous.’”
Hernando’s amusement drained away. Malice welled up in its place, a gnawing desire to destroy Harper in such a thorough, tortuous way that his words would never be spoken again. “Oh? Where did you hear that?”
“Read it in a book,” Harper replied. He touched a finger to the crystal in his sword and pulled a bead of flame from it. The crystal didn’t visibly dim so it couldn’t have been that much. Nevertheless Hernando braced himself for another attack like that which had destroyed his sword. But Harper just continued to speak in his previous tone of voice. “’The magic of gold goes beyond simply bonding with all metals. It also mimics the magic of that metal. The way iron wars with magic isn’t understood but it is magic and this is why gilded iron does not kill magic is effectively as other forms of the metal. Gold is killing iron’s magic just as iron is killing other magics.’”
Growing tired of Harper’s lecturing, Hernando took a half step to the left, as if he was going to circle around the other man towards Danica, then transitioned from the feint to a vicious lunge. By forcing the weight of metal into his forward foot, he added to his forward momentum creating an unstoppable step-in. Unfortunately Harper did not react as Hernando hoped.
Instead of moving forward to intercept Hernando’s feint Harper skipped back and threw his bead of fire into the wooden floor. It burst into a small flame that wavered weakly. Then Haper pointed two fingers of his left hand at the flame and a spark like red lightning flickered in his eyes and the floorboards burst into flames. Hernando had skidded through his initial lunge, keeping his weight forward. He’d intended to chase Harper and bring him to grips. Instead he got caught in the fiery eruption Harper set off. Scrambling to try and get out of the sudden conflagration, Hernando’s boot caught on the edge of… something and he toppled over.
It wasn’t until he scrambled backwards across the floor that he saw what had happened. He was beating out the flames on his clothes when he realized the floorboards were quickly turning to ash, leaving a half inch depression full of ash growing in the building’s great room. The fire was advancing with supernatural speed, already lapping at the soles of his boots again. The flames on his clothes would not go out.
He had to get away from Harper. The man had some kind of magical control over fire, a power as mysterious to Hernando now as gold drinking had been a year ago. But few magics could be directed with precision without the ability to see what one was doing.
Herando wasn’t the only one to realize this. When he spun to head back to the door he discovered the entire floor behind him was a sea of flames. He tried to think of a counter. His opponent was one step ahead of him. The fire surged forward in a wave that funneled itself towards him, rushing over his head and torso in a seemingly endless stream. The heat was enough that, even with his reduced sense of touch, Hernando could feel his flesh burning.
Then he toppled to the ground. “’The magic of silver is to assume the shape its master desires.’” Harpers voice came from very close by. “’When it binds to gold, both gold and silver will shape to your desires. By binding silver to the gold in the creature’s blood you will gain power over it equal to the creature itself.’”
Hernando’s eyes recovered from being boiled away, although they saw the world through the yellow tinge of the gold that had helped them heal. What he saw was Harper kicking his severed leg to one side. Flecks of gold and iron clung to his blade, gleaming in the light of the brilliant bead of fire cupped in his left hand.
“’This is the way I, Sir Albert Oakshott, successor of Pellinore, first slew the creature of blood and gold.’” Hernando lunged forward, hoping to drag Harper down to his level. One of his arms struck Harper’s leg as he sidestepped the lunge and something clattered to the ground. For a moment Hernando thought he’d succeeded. Then he pivoted on the stump of his leg to follow up on his success to discover Harper, still on his feet, coming forward to slam his boot down onto Hernando’s chest.
“You can still renounce your gold,” Harper said, leaning over him. “Even if you don’t know the way, Albert did.”
At a total loss, feeling his reserves of gold and blood vanishing as they tried to replace his leg, Hernando tried to think of a response. He could only think of one.
To his surprise, Harper only sighed when Hernando’s spittle hit his boot. “So be it.”
Then he raised up his weapon and swung it down through Hernando’s neck.