Read The Knife's Edge Online

Authors: Matthew Wolf

Tags: #Fantasy

The Knife's Edge (4 page)

He dashed forward. The feelers shot out, even quicker than before. He dove to the right. The dark limb crashed into the stone, sending powder and stone shards into the air. Ren let out a furious cry, dodging left and right. Two more liquid feelers skinned his torso and arm. Kirin lifted his arms, dropping Vera, and the nightmarish limbs moved quicker, attacking from every angle. Ren’s cry pitched, giving into his rage, weaving beneath the limbs. He dove into a swift roll. When he looked up he was inside, only an arm’s length away. He lunged forward, and grasped the boy’s arms in one mighty grip. He pressed his sword to Kirin’s throat.

“Kirin! Wake up, damn it! I know you’re in there! Don’t make me…” He pressed the blade tighter in the final moment, blood peeling beneath the razor-sharp edge. His muscled arm was ready to cut, to finish it as he knew he should.

The boy’s green eyes stared into him, glazed. And Ren realized the boy was gone. Ren took a breath and uttered a final prayer when Kirin’s head shook, just a little. Ren opened his mouth and gasped. He looked down. A dark, liquid feeler protruded from his stomach. Ren sputtered, trying to form words but dark, frothy blood came out. He tried to swallow it back, but it was no use as more flowed forth.

Falling, he knew. He knew it as soon as his sword didn’t cut.

“Kirin…” he sputtered and the darkness consumed him.

* * *

Kirin distantly saw Ren fall. All of it came rushing back, as if he were waking from a dark slumber. He saw the room, bathed in blood. It dripped from the ceiling, coating the stone walls and shattered furniture. His mind railed in confusion.

The darkness retreated back into the sword, pulling itself from the four corners of the room and sucking into the blade. The sword glowed for a moment, brighter than a star, then its sheen returned to normal. In the hallway, alarms sounded, echoing throughout the Neophyte Palace.

At his feet, Vera’s corpse lay, blood pooling. Slowly, he backed out of the room. Outside, with the sword in his bloodstained grip, he ran, fleeing to the only safe place he knew.

An Arbiter’s Gift

the Citadel. He had trusted his Ki, as it guided him down corridors restricted to all but the highest-ranking Reavers. Always he heard the guards’ footfalls sounding through the Citadel like a broken dam. Twice he felt the presence of Devari. Luckily, they weren’t as strong and he sensed them first, instead of the other way around.

At last, he stood before the oak door. He threw it open. The room was shaped in a curve, fitting to the tower’s shape. Inside, he saw gold stands, opulent carpets, Saerian vases, windows with a view of the city, but all of it was a blur in his vision. He rushed towards Ezrah who stood behind his wooden desk.

Kirin opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

Ezrah saw his gore-covered hands and moved with unexpected swiftness. A power surrounded the Arbiter like a nimbus, and the flush of white filled the room making the tapestries flutter and knocking stacks of papers off the table. Ezrah touched his temple. Images poured through him in a flash—scenes of everything that had happened until now. At last, his vision raced to this moment, to where he stood. He gasped and pulled away.

“Light and flesh…” Ezrah cursed, and grasped his shoulders. “You… you have to leave, my boy, at once.” He whisked towards his desk, and more papers and tomes showered to the floor as he flung them aside in search.

Kirin opened his mouth, his breath returned in a rush, but he could barely inhale before the next exhale fell.

“You’re going to faint, you must slow your breathing,” Ezrah instructed as he opened and slammed drawers with the flick of his finger.

“I—I can’t,” he gasped. His grandfather returned and put another finger to the side of his head. His breathing slowed, but his mind didn’t—it reeled in fear, anger, denial, confusion, and a thousand other emotions. Yet one thing was clear, and it overrode all else. “I killed them all… I killed Ren,” he whispered in horror, eyeing the blood on his hands and arms. Vera’s blood.

“You did not kill them, Kirin. It did.” Ezrah pointed to the sword. Kirin dropped the blade as if it burned. The blade clattered on the stone floor. “This you must trust, it was not your fault. Always remember that.”

“How could I possibly forget what I’ve done?”

“Soon you will not remember this, but you deserve to know what has begun this night. Many years ago, when I was still but a Neophyte, I stumbled across a book of prophecy. I later discovered, to my horror, that what I held was the prophecy that foretold of the true Return that would tear the world asunder.”

A cold seeped beneath Kirin’s skin. The true Return was a story that scared children to bed, and made old men curse and spit. It was the nightmare all the world feared.

“I kept the prophecy secret. And day and night, I worked to decipher what I could in the effort that the Return would never come to pass.” Ezrah cursed. “Now I see I was a fool to think I could alter the prophecy, and a blind one to miss that the most important piece was right beneath my nose.”

Kirin shook his head. “What does the true Return have to do with me?”

“You are at the center of it. There is a power inside you, one that is both terrible and great beyond imagination. That you hold the sword without pain is evidence that you are the destined wielder the prophecy speaks of.”

“What does the prophecy say?”

Ezrah hesitated.

He gripped his grandfather’s arm. “Tell me.”

“The prophecy states that if you do not learn to control the sword and your power, your fate will be one of sorrow and death. You will wield a power more dreadful than a hundred Returns, ultimately bringing the world to its knees.”

Kirin backed away. “You’re wrong…”

“It is not your fault, for the sword holds a terrible darkness,” Ezrah said, eyeing the blade, “A darkness borne of its previous owner.”

“Vera?” he said in disbelief.

“No. The sword is called Morrowil. It was once held by Kail, the leader of the Ronin.”

“You mean the betrayer of men…”

“Some call him that. Regardless, whether by your own design, the sword’s, or another’s, it is your destiny to become the harbinger of chaos.”

Kirin forced his racing thoughts to slow. He shook his head. “Damn the prophecy! Whatever it says, that’s not me! I will fight it!”

Ezrah’s reply was quiet and cold, “Just as you fought what you did to Ren and the others?”

He swallowed, looking away. “Is… is there no hope?”

He felt a strong hand upon his shoulder. “You have me. And there is one chance, but it is not without peril.” Kirin looked up. “I uncovered a slim passage of prophecy. Where countless paths lead to ruin, there is one that treads death and chaos, but leads to salvation. It is a prophecy called the Knife’s Edge.”

“What am I to do?”

“You must flee,” Ezrah said and hastened towards a dresser made of polished silveroot. He murmured something, and then plunged his hands into the bookshelves. As if there were no books, the man’s hand extended, flowing beyond. Ezrah’s face contorted until a look of satisfaction settled and he pulled his hand back from the magical bookcase.

Kirin watched as Ezrah returned and in the palm of his hand sat a pendant with the symbols of the Great Kingdoms. “This is what you will need. It is very rare. Under its protection you can cross the Gates, then from there, you will find safety in Daerval, in the land of the Lost Woods. The path is far from certain and there are many pitfalls along the way, but this is our only hope.” Ezrah smiled, his deep-set lines becoming, for the first time, warm. “Take it,” he said and tightened Kirin’s hand into a fist around the pendant

Kirin gripped the pendant, looking around the room. The candle flickered on the desk, and the fire crackled in the corner. The scene was too serene, too starkly quiet to match the chaos that roiled in his mind. Were it any other day, he would be fireside, huddled over a bowl of soup after a long morning of mental or physical training, close to his brothers, the other Devari in their warm, lively halls. “I will do whatever it takes,” he said.

“There is one last thing. You must take that as well.” Ezrah motioned to the sword on the ground.

“No, I…” Suddenly the visions returned and he fell to his knees. He saw their faces. Forgha, Maerus, and Ren, and he whispered in horror, “I killed everyone.”

“It’s all right, my boy, but you must be quiet.” Kirin heard the rattle of boots in the halls and he forced himself to silence, but he couldn’t stop the visions. He heard his grandfather’s soothing voice, “I can make it stop. I promise, but there will be a price.”

He gripped his grandfather’s robed sleeve. “Anything,” he pleaded.

“I will cleanse you of what you have seen, for your sake, and for the sake of the prophecy,” Ezrah replied. “However, it will only be temporary. One day, you will remember who you are, and where you came from. But for now, you must leave all that behind.”

“Who am I to be then?”

“At your core, you will always be Kirin. We never lose ourselves, even if we forget our names, or our ways.”

Kirin tried to slow things down, and make sense of his tangled thoughts. Though he desired more than anything to forget his visions, the horrible image of Vera impaled on the sword, the look of betrayal and horror on Ren’s face, he could not imagine the thought of losing everything he knew. All my memories gone. The thought was somehow more terrifying than death.

Ezrah looked to the door again as boot strikes sounded, and the alarm echoed through the thick door. “There is no more time. They will be here soon.”

Kirin’s mind was already made up. “I will do what I must.”

“So be it.” Ezrah’s robed arm extended as he touched the side of Kirin’s head. “This is going to be painful, I apologize in advance.”

“I’m ready.” As he spoke, pain spiraled through him, coursing through his body and making his back bend until he thought his spine would snap. He threw open his mouth in a howl and a barrier of silence stuffed the cry back down. He shut his eyes and let the pain fill him, embracing the leaf, but even the leaf shattered, lost in a whirlpool of mind-numbing pain. Slowly the world returned and he opened his eyes.

“It is done,” Ezrah whispered.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “I’m still me. I still remember everything.”

“The spell will enact as soon as you leave the walls of the Citadel,” the Arbiter replied.

“Then how will I know what to do, where to go if I lose my memory?”

“The spell will guide you. I have imparted all the knowledge you need to know to make it safely across the gates, and to find your destiny. Everything you know now will be temporarily held behind this barrier.

“Lastly, you must leave the name Kirin behind. There are those within these walls that seek the sword as well, and it’s safe to assume they will soon know of the events that transpired here. Take the name Gray,” Ezrah said with a smile. “It was what I wanted your mother to name you, if I had my choice.” He turned as boots thundered just outside the door. “Now we must get you out of here.”

As he spoke, a hard knock rattled the door to his chambers. They both turned to the noise, like thieves caught in the act. Ezrah snatched Kirin’s cuff. “No one must know you were here, quick!” Kirin grabbed the sword as the Arbiter dragged him across the room to the other end. Ezrah pulled back another bookshelf, letting tomes shower to the ground.

The knock came again, even louder than before.

“Who is it? Who dares bother me in my studies?” Ezrah called, his voice now booming. The voice of an Arbiter.

“It is me,” came the reply, equally, if not more powerful.

Kirin froze. Ezrah did the same. Who could command his grandfather? Whose voice was that?

Ezrah nearly stuttered. He turned, reaching behind the bookcase, tugging it further away from the wall. He moved behind it, pulling Kirin with him. “One moment,” he replied, “You caught me in my studies. I didn’t know there was anything of grave importance happening today.” The bookcase still hid them from the sight of the entryway.

“Open the door,” came the brisk command, even more menacing.

Instead, Ezrah touched a stone in the wall and it slid out as if well-slicked, and instantly Kirin recognized it. A transporter, he realized, hidden by the bookcase. Ezrah embraced him. “Good luck.” The knocks thundered even louder, “Remember, the power of the Arbiter flows in your veins, listen to it well, for it is not the power of strength, but the power of truth. I will be with you every step in my own way.”

Kirin summoned a smile, his heart pounding fearfully in his chest.

Suddenly, the crack of bursting timber echoed throughout the room. Ezrah smacked the wall, and a dark purple light surrounded Kirin, holding him like a casing of stone once more, and the world went black. The last image he saw was his grandfather’s smile and the white hem of the Patriarch’s robes, turning the corner of the bookcase.

* * *

The blanket of purple evaporated. Kirin opened his eyes, and saw he was standing in the cold shade of a narrow alley. Beyond, he glimpsed the busy streets of Farbs.

“The Patriarch? his voice echoed in the silent alley. He knew he didn’t have much time—the death of the leader of the Devari would not stay contained in the Citadel. It wouldn’t be long before the whole city was alerted, and the streets would be swarming with Citadel and elite Farbian guards.

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