Saturday, August 19, 2017

Flowing Blade

Flowing Blade
By Matthew “Snooglebum” Wasik

The redblooms fell early that year.
The lights of the big city behind her, Salidae strode forward, down a boulevard she didn’t know the name of. Red petals gently drifted down, a few landing on the clean white silk she wore. She didn’t bother to brush them off. A sword hung at her side, stowed in an ornate leather sheath engraved with the language of her homeland. The sheath was decorated with green vines and flowers.
It’s beautiful in Suwen this time of year. said the sword, its girlish voice echoing in Salidae’s head.
Yeah. Salidae thought back, looking around at redbloom petals as gusts of wind swept them through the air. Hey Ellie, remember the Chyras trees at home? How we always used to climb them?
Haha, yeah. laughed Ellie, giggling. You always pushed me off the branches.
Yep. I was a little prick back then. replied Salidae. Still am, really.
Yeah, but you’re my little prick, Sal. said Ellie fondly.
Salidae smiled slightly.
Thanks, El.
Ellie was an Oruja, the spirit of a dead person that had solidified into a sentient weapon. Ellie was Salidae’s companion, and more than companion.
Salidae turned a corner, proceeding on to the servants district. The buildings packed in closer, and were made out of simple wood, as opposed to the opulent stone and marble of the noble’s district. She could smell the aroma of cooking meat, and people filled the street, moving to and fro. The crowd gave her a wide berth, though.
They probably know who I am. thought Salidae, surveying the crowd, who were looking at her anxiously. Or they think I’m a noblewoman.
I mean, they’re not wrong. replied Ellie. We are noblewomen, after all.
That was a long time ago. Pretty sure we don’t have our titles any more.
Then we’re noblewomen in spirit. said Ellie.
Maybe you are. Salidae replied. I don’t feel very noble. Never have.
Remember you trying to learn calligraphy? said Ellie, sounding amused.
I’d rather not.
Salidae reached what she thought was the right house, reading the characters above the door. The Suwen script was still somewhat unfamiliar to her-- she was a foreigner to these lands, after all.
Rawoon. she thought. This is the house.
Huh. said Ellie. That’s gotta suck.
The two characters making up their name can also directly translate to “coward heart”.
Oh. thought Salidae. What does my last name translate to?
I think “Maroe” translates to “beautiful flower”, or something like that.
So I’m a plant. thought Salidae. Great.
She knocked on the door to the Rawoon domicile. It swung open, and a short man with a stoop in his back looked up at Salidae. He took in her appearance-- pale skin and cold dark eyes, with a flowing mane of black hair and delicate silk robes-- and came to the obvious conclusion.
“Flowing Blade!” he gasped. “I… I didn’t think you would come!”
“I did.” she said. “Let’s get inside. Don’t know who’s listening.”
“Yes, yes of course. Oh, please pardon my manners!” said the man, bowing deeply. He lead her into the house, still a little dumbfounded. “I’m Tsa Rawoon. I’m… I’m still flattered that a woman of your stature would respond to my plea! ”
“Didn’t come for you. I came for your daughter.” replied Salidae bluntly.
“Yes, of course.” he said, gesturing to another door. She’s in the next room.”
Salidae looked around the interior of the small house. The Rawoon household was modestly furnished. There was Suwen folk art decorating it richly, and although the accommodations were not lavish, it was obvious whoever decorated the house had an eye for aesthetics.
“My daughter decorated.” said Tsa with obvious pride, noticing Salidae’s attention.
“Okay.” said Salidae.
I think it’s pretty. said Ellie.
It is pretty. said Salidae.
Then you should say so!
“Nice house.” said Salidae out loud. “Let’s see your daughter.”
Ellie giggled. Close enough.
Tsa led her into a bedroom. It was furnished with similar care as the first room, and it had a bed in the corner with neatly-made simple white sheets. Kneeling at a small shrine was a young woman, black hair set in a tidy bun. She was lighting incense sticks around a picture frame with Suwen writing that Salidae didn’t recognize.
Those characters mean “mother”. said Ellie quietly. That’s a funeral shrine.
Oh. Welp. said Salidae. Bummer.
The girl looked up as Salidae entered, giving her a confused look, getting to her feet. “May I help you, my lady?” she asked, giving her a deep, respectful bow.
“Sword sheath covered in flowers? Long black hair? White silk? Doesn’t ring any bells?” asked Salidae, cocking her head to the side.
The girl looked blank for a second, and then gasped and backed up a few paces. “Flowing Blade!” she said, with an equal amount of awe and fear.
“Yup.” said Salidae dryly. “Me.”
The girl immediately dropped to her knees and prostrated herself. “My lady,” she said, her voice shaking. “My life is yours to take.”
“What? Whoa. No.” said Salidae, raising her eyebrows. “Calm down, I’m not here to kill you. Get up.”
The girl stood slowly, looking confused. “Then… if I may ask, my lady, why are you here?”
“Your-- well, first of all, you got a name?” asked Salidae.
“I am called Lina, your lady. Lina-Rawoon.”
“Cool. Your dad sent for me, actually.”
Lina looked at Tsa, shock and disapproval in her voice. “You sent for her, Father? Like she was a servant?”
“To be fair,” Ellie said out loud, causing both Tsa and Lina to start, “it was a nice letter.”
“Your blade… it talks.” said Tsa in a hushed voice.
“Wave Edge.” said Lina reverently. “So the stories are true.”
“I’m a she, not an it, actually.” Ellie corrected. “And ‘Wave Edge’ is just my title. My name’s Ellie, nice to meet you.”
Lina recovered first. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, my lady.” she said, bowing to Ellie at Salidae’s side. Tsa greeted her and bowed as well.
Ellie giggled. “So polite.”
I could get used to this. said Ellie to Salidae, privately.
“Right.” said Salidae. “We’re all respectful. Great. I came here for a reason.” she pointed at Lina. “You.”
“Me, my lady?” asked Lina, confused. “What could you possibly want with a humble servant like me?”
Salidae sat down on the wooden floorboards. “So let me get my facts straight. You’re a servant to Lord Kazu, one of the local lords. And he treats you like dogshit. Right so far?”
Lina shot a frightened look at Tsa.
“That is correct, Flowing Blade.” said Tsa quietly. “Kazu is an abusive monster.”
“My lord… is not a kind man.” said Lin, her voice hushed, looking down at the floor.
“Does he rape you?” asked Ellie softly.
Lina said nothing.
“Answer her.” said Salidae flatly.
Lina nodded mutely.
“What else does he do? Answer.”
“He… last night, my lord dipped several needles into a brazier until they were white-hot, and inserted them into my… into my flesh.” Lina’s composure broke and she fell silent, shaking. Tsa moved to comfort her, and wrapped her in a tight hug. Tears dripped from her eyes, squeezed tightly shut.
“Wow.” said Salidae. “Alright.”
“Lina,” said Ellie, “if Lord Kazu was to die-- actually, just ‘Kazu’, I’m not gonna honor him with his title-- who would your obligation pass to?”
“Lord Shin Mokai.” said Tsa, answering for her. “He is, by all reports, a gentle man, and kind to his servants.”
“Okay.” said Salidae. “Got it.” she stood up, nodding.
“Where are you going, my lady?” asked Tsa.
“Gonna kill this motherfucker.” she said. “Obviously.”
“You… you’re actually…” said Lina, hope rising in her voice.
“Yup. I’m actually. He’s supposed to be a master at swordplay, right?”
“His skill is known throughout the land, he has easily cut down dozens of rivals who tested his skill.” said Tsa. “My lady, we have precious little to pay you with…”
Salidae shrugged. “Just pay me whatever you can spare.” she said. “Other people will pay me more for other stuff, it’ll make up for it. I really only want travelling expenses, anyway.”
“My lady…” said Lina, having collected herself. “If you do free me from my lord, I would be in your debt eternally.”
“Eh.” said Salidae, waving her hand airily. “I don’t need debt. Just more people to fight.”
“Thank you my lady.” said Tsa. “Thank you so much.”
“Yup.” said Salidae. “Gonna go do some reconnaissance. See ya.”

Salidae stood on the crest of a hill, looking down. The vibrant green grass swayed softly in the breeze, and the sun stood overhead, glaring down. In the distance in front of her stood a four-walled compound, a large central building of wood and stone surrounded by a well-maintained courtyard. She could faintly make out two guards in front of the large metal gate, it’s dull iron grey contrasting with the brightly-painted red walls. She had lucked out-- Lord Kazu was in his retreat in the countryside.
Think we could burn down the building? asked Ellie.
Salidae thought for a moment, and then shook her head. Nah. she said. Too much stone. Plus, then we wouldn’t have a guarantee that Kazu would die-- there are too many exits.
True. said Ellie. So we go in the front door?
We go in the front door. responded Salidae, beginning the trek towards the gate.
You know, you could always jump over the walls. Said Ellie, after a few seconds. They’re only, what, twelve feet high? Fifteen?
Eh. Too much work. And then I wouldn’t get to kill these assholes here.
Both of the guards were clothed in metal armor. One of the guards saw her approaching, and raised his spear. “Halt, in the name of Lord Kazu!” he cried.
“Nah.” said Salidae. And in one fluid motion, she drew and swung Ellie, in an arc encompassing both guards. The blade extended to it’s full twenty feet, liquid metal sloughing off it’s cutting edge, the blade itself flowing and curving like a cresting wave. It’s supernaturally sharp blade sheared through the guards armor, and dealt them both a mortal blow. They fell to the ground, gurgling.
Nice. said Ellie.
Thanks. That was all you, though. Salidae replied, starting for the door. As she walked, she held Ellie in her hand, her tip pointed towards the ground in a relaxed position. The blood on the blade began to slide off it like rain on a slanted roof, leaving the silver blade clean. Salidae looked the iron door up and down, and gave it an experimental push. It swung open slowly, with an almighty creak. She stepped into the courtyard.
The courtyard was a lavish affair, with a path of pale white pavement leading up to the door of the manor, surrounded by two vibrant gardens. An old and weathered man was tending to the gardens, wearing a simple sun hat. He looked up, seeing Salidae, and his eyes widened.
“By the gods!” he said awe in his voice. “You’re--”
“Flowing Blade, yes. Hi.” said Salidae impatiently. She jabbed her thumb towards the open door. “Leave.” she said.
“Yes, yes of course. At once.” he said, bowing. He then left in a hurry, leaving his gardens behind.
Salidae strode up to the front entrance, an ornate set of double doors marked with dragon carvings.
Ready, Ellie? she asked. Once I open this door, I’m not stopping until everybody in this building is dead.
Leave the servants alive, silly. Ellie chided. They’re not part of this.
Oh, right. Good idea. and with perfect confidence, Salidae flung the doors open.
Two soldiers were behind the door, girded in similar armor as the first two. They looked surprised at her appearance. Quick as a flash, Salidae drew Ellie and bisected him vertically. The other had begun to open his mouth to say something, but Salidae had already lopped his head off in a flash of silver.
Two down. thought Salidae, with grim satisfaction.
“Intruder!” a panicked voice shouted down the hallway. “Intruder!”
Salidae calmly walked into the building, flicking blood off her sword. Shouting soldiers filled the hallway to her left and right-- two in the front, and two in the back, on both sides. Salidae sighed.
Alright, let’s do this. she thought. Ready?
She hit the column of soldiers to her left head on, dodging nimbly past their spears and cutting them in half. The men behind the soldiers in front cried out, and tried to back up. Salidae whipped her sword at them. The blade extended, and lopped both their heads off.
Behind you! called Ellie.
Salidae whirled to see a pair of soldiers jabbing spears at her. She smoothly moved in between them, swept her blade, and cut the spears in half. She saw the soldiers back up into their compatriots, fear in their faces.
Let’s do this efficiently.
She stabbed Ellie forward the soldiers, impaling the two in the front and back. She then flicked the blade to the right, and it’s preternaturally sharp blade sheared through all four soldiers.
And in the span of a few seconds, Salidae had killed eight men.
Man, I hope we fight somebody worth fighting soon. thought Saidae, stepping over the corpses, and down the hallway.
Yeah. This is no fun. Ellie agreed.
They proceeded towards where Lord Kazu’s personal chambers were supposed to be. Salidae reached the door, and pushed it open.
The furnishings were ornate, but Salidae was in no mood to take note of them. In the center of the room stood Lord Kazu, regarding her calmly. He was a tall man, over six feet, with an impeccably groomed beard and moustache, and hair set in a bun. His features were cruel and sharp, and a wicked grin was spread across his face. He was unarmed, with no blade in a scabbard, even.
“Lord Kazu.” said Salidae.
“Flowing Blade. This really is a pleasant surprise, I have to say.” he said, his eyes searching her body in a lecherous fashion. “You are every bit as beautiful as I have heard.”
“Yeah, sure, thanks.” said Salidae skeptically. “Why are you happy to see me? I’ve come to kill you.”
“Mmm. And why haven’t you already killed me, I wonder?”
“That’s a good question.”
There was a sighing noise, and a long straight blade, seemingly made of black obsidian formed in Kazu’s right hand. Lord Kazu grinned wider and said “I’ll tell you why: you, like me, are bored. You, like me, seek a challenge. And you, like me, you don’t want to kill the only other person who could possibly challenge you without dueling them first.” Black smoke slowly emitted from the blade of Kazu’s weapon, and the blade itself seemed to be breathing.
He’s right. said Ellie softly.
“This is cramped place to fight.” said Salidae eventually. “Let’s go to the courtyard.”
“Agreed.” said Kazu.
Salidae walked through the corridors of lord Kazu’s mansion, the man himself following behind calmly.
“So.” said Salidae. “What’s to stop you from just stabbing me in the back?”
Kazu scoffed. “That would be cowardly.” he said, a note of disgust in his voice.
“And forcing yourself on servants who can’t resist isn’t?” asked Ellie skeptically.
Kazu laughed. “That would fall under the category of ‘fun’.” he said.
“Right. I should have guessed.” said Ellie flatly.
The two reached the courtyard, and squared off. Salidae looked over the area, in depth she hadn’t bothered with before. It consisted of a cobblestone path, leading to the open gate. Two raised stone platforms held beautifully-tended gardens, and the garden on her left was home to a redbloom tree that was in full bloom, scattering vibrant red petals across the courtyard. Behind her two thick wooden pillars leading up to a wooden archway, in front of stairs that led up to the building.
Kazu walked ten paces ahead of Salidae, and turned, holding his obsidian blade at the ready, its blade leaking black smoke.
“Hey, Kazu!” called Ellie. “That weapon of yours-- is it an Oruja, like me?”
Kazu smiled. “It is indeed. The soul of a murderer, that gravitated to me for some reason I do not fathom.”
“What’s its name?” asked Ellie.
“Name? Its name is unimportant.” said Kazu shrugging. “It is a servant, like the rest.”
Well that tells us something. said Ellie, privately.
What does it tell us?
That his blade won’t be giving him any advice or anything.
Salidae frowned. That’s not very useful.
I know. Remember, it’s an Oruja, it’ll have some sort of special power or trick, just like I do.
“Shall we?” asked Kazu, raising an eyebrow. “No time like the present.”
“Yeah.” said Salidae, “let’s do this.”
The two bowed to each other, and raised their weapons. Salidae reached into her center of focus, and gained control over her Ki, the force that allowed her to do amazing things.
And then the fight began.
Salidae stabbed forward with Ellie, the blade streaking out towards Kazu, leaking metal as it did. At the same time, Kazu cried out and swung his blade, and a blast of pure force streaked out of the weapon, sending ripples through the air as it did. The two dodged each other’s attacks-- Salidae jumped to the left, and Kazu jumped above the blade, drawing on his own Ki to lift off swiftly. The blast of force rammed into the steps, shattering a chunk of them and sending cobblestone everywhere.
Salidae retracted her blade, with a swift pulling motion. Kazu, about to land, put one of his feet on the quick-moving retreating blade and used it to propel himself forward. Ellie reformed just in time for Salidae to block Kazu’s overhead chop. Salidae was forced a step backward from the strength of his blow. Kazu was sporting a crazed grin, and Salidae realized she was grinning fiercely as well.
Finally! thought Salidae. Somebody worth fighting!
Kazu reared back his sword for another slice, but he had left himself too open-- Salidae was able to get a slash in. A normal man would have been beheaded, but Kazu was able to leap back, suffering nothing but a cut on the cheek.
Kazu paused for a second, feeling his cheek with his left hand, looking at the blood on it. He laughed.
“Finally!” he said, seemingly in genuine pleasure. “Finally!”
“I know how you feel.” said Salidae, mouth stretched wide.
Still laughing, Kazu launched another blast of force at her, its ripples distorting Salidae’s view of him. She tapped into her Ki and leapt backwards and up, her leap carrying her out of the way of the blast and on top of the wooden arch.
“Well?” she called down. “Come and get me!”
Kazu obliged, leaping up, launching another force blast as he did so. Salidae decided to try a risky experiment. She swung Ellie in a block, using the combined force of the sword swing and her Ki to dissipate the force blast. The blast was mostly dissolved, the remaining force sending her hair and gown billowing as if in a high wind. Kazu, who had reached her in the air, swung with his sword, expecting her to block with her blade. Instead, Salidae pivoted left and swung Ellie’s empty hilt. It collided with Kazu’s arm and knocked it away enough to prevent it from cutting into Salidae’s torso, and instead cut a shallow groove into her left arm, ripping her silk robes.
Kazu was still flying towards her, a look of surprise on his face. Salidae was at an awkward angle, with her sword arm drawn across her chest, blocking Kazu’s blow. So she reared back her head and smashed her forehead into Kazu’s nose, which broke with a crunch. She reformed Ellie and swung at his head for the killing blow, but Kazu had turned her attack into momentum for an escape-- he kicked off the archway with both feet and retreated into the gardens.
Salidae swung Ellie in a wide arc, extending the blade out to the gardens. She nearly decapitated Kazu, but he moved his blade up in a vertical block that managed to knock away the blow. He tapped into his Ki and dissolved Ellie, her extended reach turning into liquid metal that splashed onto the ground. Salidae leapt at him, flying at Kazu, murderous intent in her eyes as she willed Ellie to reform.
Their swords met with a clang of metal that rang throughout the courtyard, and began to exchange blows. The two began circling each other, and fought in a flash of steel. Exchanging feints and counterfeints, thrusts and counterthrusts. Flower petals swirled around them as they fought, shrouding them in a colorful haze. Neither was able to gain the advantage over each other.
Until one of them did.
It was a slight mistake, one that wouldn’t have mattered in a normal battle. Salidae was slightly too slow parrying a blow. Kazu’s blade caught the tip of her weapon, and slid off, biting deeply into her arm. She hissed in pain, jumping backwards, towards the redbloom tree. Kazu cried out in triumph, swung his sword down, and launched another blast of force at her, while she was still midair. She tried to deflect it, but the shock of the pain made her too slow, and the blast slammed her against the tree.
Her head snapped back and smashed into the trunk of the tree, and she fell to her knees, black spots dancing in her vision. She struggled to her feet, her vision blurry, in time to see Kazu running at her, grinning. She tried to move to block, but her limbs weren’t responding nearly as fast as she needed them to. She tried in vain to dodge out of the way.
And then Kazu ran her through.
He sunk his blade into her chest to the hilt, pinning her to the tree. She gasped, and cried out in pain as Kazu laughed and twisted the blade. He withdrew the sword, and Salidae slumped to the ground, leaving a streak of blood on the tree, vibrantly red on its brown bark. Ellie slipped out of her grip and landed on the ground.
Kazu stepped back, and laughed. “Magnificant!” he declared. “You were magnificent, Flowing Blade! Magnificant! Why, were things otherwise, I would ask to take you as my wife! And if you said no, I’d take you anywa--”
Without warning, Ellie’s blade animated, streaking around and towards Kazu at lightning speed. He tried to raise his blade to block, but he had been caught utterly by surprise. The blade impaled him, emerging from his back streaked in crimson.
“Ellie can still do things if I’m not holding her, dumbass.” said Salidae, her voice weak. “If you bothered talking to your sword, you’d know that.”
The blade retreated. Lord Kazu gasped for air that was not coming, then collapsed to the ground.
You’re crazy, Sal. said Ellie, who had been informed of Salidae’s plan at the last second. Banking on him not knowing I was autonomous, intentionally getting hit and moving so the wound wasn’t fatal…
Yeah yeah. said Sal. Now get over here and help me, or the wound actually will be fatal.
Ellie’s blade disintegrated, turning into flowing metal. The metal moved over onto Saldiae and into her wounds, which was a peculiar and unpleasant situation. The metal closed the wounds and formed itself into stitches, sealing Salidae’s injuries shut.
You know, you probably would have beat him eventually. said Ellie.
No way to guarantee that. We were equally matched, but he probably had more stamina than me.
Maybe. It is nice to be inside you, though. said Ellie, teasingly. Very warm.
Salidae laughed quietly. Just… gonna rest here for a moment, ok? Keep me safe.
I will. said Ellie seriously.
And Salidae leaned against the redbloom tree and closed her eyes, petals falling all around her.

Salidae eventually awoke. Her chest throbbed, and her white silk robes had been stained scarlet.
Damn it, she thought, I liked those robes.
We’ll get you new ones. said Ellie.
Salidae rose to her feet, then checked Kazu’s corpse, searching for something.
What are you looking for? Ellie asked curiously.
And Salidae grabbed hold of a jade necklace the man was wearing, and yanked it off his head.
Alright, got it. Time to go.

It wasn’t too long a walk back to town, although it felt longer to Salidae because of her injuries. She reached town, and walked through a courtyard with four entrances.
Shouldn’t there be people around here? she thought.
Just then, soldiers began pouring out of all four entrances, clad in grey metal armor. The surrounded her, spears at the ready but not attacking. Their ranks parted way to reveal a man in blue armor.
An officer? thought Salidae, looking around.
Careful, Sal. said Ellie. You may not be able to handle this many people, injured like you are.
I’ll handle it.
“Flowing Blade!” said the officer loudly.
“That’s me.” said Salidae, giving him a flat stare. “What do you want?”
“By the order of Lord Regent Tan Dao, you are to be placed under arrest! Surrender peacefully and you will not be harmed! We have fifty men surrounding you! Do not make this harder than it is!”
Salidae looked around at the soldiers around her. They looked unsettled, shooting each other nervous glances. Salidae slowly turned around in a circle, surveying the soldiers, not saying anything.
“Flowing Blade! You are clearly injured! Give up now, before you are killed!”
Time for a performance.
Salidae barked out a laugh, and turned to look at the officer.
“Are you kidding?” she said. “This blood isn’t mine. I just got back from killing Lord Kazu.”
There was muttering amongst the soldiers.
“Impossible!” said the officer, his eyes widening. “His skill is known throughout the land!”
“Yeah, well, so is mine.” said Salidae scornfully. She looked around at the soldiers. “Listen.” she said. “I’ve killed fifty men before. I’ve killed a hundred men. A thousand. You think you all are the first to try this? I am Flowing Blade, and if you cross me, I will end you. So before you all throw away your lives, let me give you one piece of advice:”
She put her hand on Ellie’s hilt. “Run.” she said, softly.
The officer backed up a step, and the soldiers looked at each other in fear.
She drew Ellie, with a rasping noise that echoed throughout the courtyard.
“RUN!” she and Ellie roared together, their voices blending together.
The soldiers ran. Yelling in fear and tripping over each other, then ran as fast as they could. In less than a minute, the courtyard was empty again.
Well. thought Salidae. That went well.
What if they had attacked? asked Ellie.
Eh. I probably would have run away. I can jump, like, 30 feet in the air, after all.
Even injured?
Ok, 20 feet.
Ellie giggled. Whatever you say, Sal. she said.
Salidae smiled and walked away. Let’s go to the market first, she said to Ellie, I’ve got something I want to buy.

Saliae rapped on the door to the Rawoon entrance, clad in clean silk again. It was a late hour, and there was nobody in the street save for her. The door opened, revealing Tsa Rawoon. He gasped when she saw Salidae.
“Fl-Flowing Blade!”
“Yep, still me.” said Salidae.
“Please, come in!” he said, ushering her into the house. “Is… the deed done?”
“Yep.” she said. She heard movement in the other room and called out “hey, Lina! I killed your boss!”
Lina Rawoon rushed out of the adjoining room and up to Salidae. “It is done?” she asked breathlessly, her eyes wide.
“Yup. He’s super dead.” said Salidae, pulling out the jade necklace.
“It’s true.” Lina said, in awe. “I’ve never seen my lord without that necklace.”
“He’s not your lord any more.” pointed out Ellie, her voice soft.
Lina began to weep, covering her mouth. Tsa moved to comfort her.
“I… I don’t know what to feel.” she whispered. “He was a terrible man, and yet…”
“It’s alright.” said Salidae. “Your head’s all twisted up. I get it.”
“I… yes.” said Lina, closing her yes. “Twisted up.”
“My lady, we have no way to truly repay you.” said Tsa Rawoon.
“Thank Ellie, not me.” said Salidae, shrugging. “She dealt the killing blow.”
Tsa blinked, then bowed to the sword at Salidae’s side. “Thank you, Wave Edge. We are in your debt.”
“Aww, it was nothing.” said Ellie, sounding pleased at the attention.
“There’s that debt again.” said Salidae. “Like I said, all I need are travelling expenses and I’m good. Some rich nobleman is gonna hire me to kill another rich nobleman at some point, that’ll make up the difference.”
“I will fetch the money at once, my lady.” said Tsa, hurrying out of the room, leaving Lina.

“There is one more thing you could do for me, actually.” said Salidae, looking at Lina.
Lina, who had mostly collected herself, said “What is it my lady? Name it. Anything.”
Salidae reached into her robes and drew out a simple iron dagger. She offered it to Lina, saying “take it.”
Lina looked confused. “My lady?”
“Take it.” repeated Salidae softly. “Hide it on your person somewhere. And if any man tries to abuse you again, kill them.”
“My lady…”
“Or at least stab them until they get the point.” said Salidae.
“My lady…” said Lina, looking horrified. “I’ve… I’ve never used a weapon before.”
“Then learn how to use it.” said Salidae. “You want to repay your debt to me? Then you take that and don’t let anybody hurt you again. Your family name means ‘coward heart’, but that doesn’t mean you have to be one.”
Lina was staring down at the dagger. She spoke, her voice soft. “But my lady… what if the one abusing me is someone like Lord Kazu? Somebody above justice?”
Salidae rolled her eyes. “Then you call me again. Dummy.”
Lina’s eyes filled with tears again. “Thank you.” she said. “Thank you so much.” she moved towards Salidae a little, but stopped herself.
“Good idea.” said Ellie, sounding amused. “Salidae isn’t really a hug person.” Salidae rolled her eyes again.
Tsa had returned with a small bag, which he presented to Salidae. “Your money, my lady. May it serve you well.”
Salidae took it. “Thanks, guy.”
Tsa noticed the dagger, and said “Lina! What is that?”
“Lady Flowing Blade is very kind.” said Lina quietly.
Tsa still looked confused, so Salidae explained: “I gave it to her to protect herself. She’ll tell you about it I’m sure. Look, it’s getting late and I’m getting sleepy. I’m gonna go.”
Tsa struggled with the sight of the dagger for a second, then bowed to Salidae. “Thank you, my lady.”
Lina bowed as well. “Thank you so much.”
“Yup.” said Salidae. “Alright, see ya.” she waved her hand in the air vaguely, and left.
“Bye!” called Ellie.

It was the next day. Salidae and Ellie had spent the day relaxing, recovering after the intense battle they had participated in. They were sitting on the steps of a temple neither of them knew the name of. Ellie had been unsheathed and was resting on Salidae’s lap, the setting sun glinting off her silver blade. The redbloom trees lining the temple steps had dropped a few red petals on Salidae and Ellie. Neither of them minded.
Hey Ellie? said Salidae, looking out over the city. Can I ask you something?
Sure, Sal. Anytime.
Salidae drew a deep breath in and out. Do you think I’m a good person? she asked, a note of uncertainty in her words.
What do you mean? asked Ellie. You did just kill a very bad person, after all.
Yeah, but… I killed those guys that were protecting him, and I didn’t feel anything. A little annoyance maybe, and that was it. Those guys probably have families that are going to starve now. And I didn’t come to this city to help Lina, or at least, that wasn’t totally the reason. I had heard Kazu was an amazing fighter, and I was looking for an excuse to duel him. I’m a murderer who just likes to fight people, really.
But you wanted to help Lina. Said Ellie. As soon as you heard her story you got angry, and wanted to help her. It was more than just wanting to fight for you, then.
Everything else I said is still true, though. replied Salidae, looking away.
Ellie was quiet for a few moments. Than she said: Listen, Sal. You’ve done some good things in your life. And you’ve done some bad things. But you know what? Fuck right and wrong. You’re mine and I’m yours, and that’s all that matters to me.
Salidae closed her eyes and smiled, feeling a warmth rising in her chest. She didn’t feel much, most of the time-- the world of emotions was closed off to her, for the most part.
But with Ellie, it was different. It was so different.
Thanks, El. she said, giving the blade a hug.. I love you.
I love you too, Sal. said Ellie, hurriedly dulling her edge to not cut Salidae. And although she appeared to be just a sword, Salidae could feel the warmth of her smile.
And the two sat like that until nightfall, taking life as it came.

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