<A long time ago, on a planet far, far away...>
“Well, they are coming.” Kalenath stood before his battle kin and grieved. Visitors to Stratos were rare. Peaceful visitors even more so. They had greeted the two travelers with open arms. One, the repeat traveler, had immediately taken up residence in a monastery, seeking understanding. The other however...
“Any change?” Brak, his strong right hand, stood armed and armored.
A growl was heard and they all turned to the source. The green skinned being flushed under their regard. Grudjk, the strange half-orc warrior was not an articulate being, but his devotion to Kalenath, the other Darkstorms, and Stratos were strong. Even Brak and the other dwarves with their bone deep intolerance for anything to do with Orks had finally seen that this being was different. He shrugged, his feelings on the subject were known. He hated the beings who had enslaved his entire race, and any who served them willingly...
They all turned as a new arrived trotted up. Kalenath looked at him, a question writ large in his features. The newcomer shook his head. Kalenath sighed. If the dwarf cleric couldn't persuade the man to help them no one could.
“He won't fight them with us.” Torlen could understand many things, but not this.
“He's a man of peace now. I can't say I blame him for that.” Torlen chuckled.
“He is also a shrewd businessman. He haggles like no one I have ever met.”
“What did he buy?” Sarina was quiet, but deadly. If she had been an assassin instead of a thief, no one on Stratos would be safe.
“An oddly shaped crystal. It was like the ones the others stole...” Torlen broke off as Kalenath blanched.
“How alike? The same kind?” Then he looked up and froze. Just on the other side of the border a figure had appeared. It wasn't one of the enemy. “Oh no...” They all looked up, Torlen started towards the border and Kalenath shook his head fiercely. “We can't cross, you know that brother. Take your positions.” All of them scattered to their fighting positions. He moved behind the hill to change to dragon form. Now we face fifteen instead of fourteen, joy... I had hoped not to have to kill them all...
The solitary figure stood motionless, he felt the consternation behind him, ignored it. All of his focus was on the group approaching the border. Fourteen figures, just as his friend Torlen had told him. He hadn't believed, but the truth stared him in the face. Sorrow came; he acknowledged it and let it pass. This was neither the time nor place for emotion. They saw him and stopped. This is my responsibility, I will end this now...
He waited as a lone figure came forward. A youngling, unwise. He sighed. The youngling walked up in front of him with all of the arrogance of youth. He felt a probe of his mind and rebuffed it firmly. The youth recoiled. When he spoke his words were hurried, slurred almost.
“You have the power. Join us.”
“No.” his word, in contrast to the young one's, were calm and considered. The youth grimaced.
“I didn't make myself clear. Join us, or die.”
“My quarrel is not with you, child. Go back and tell your leader to face me.” The youth snarled again and drew his weapon. The end of the glowing blade hovered an inch or so from the man's cowled face but the man did not react. The youth seemed unsure, and then he swung his weapon. Before it had completed its arc, the hilt of his weapon was in the other man's hand. The youth froze as his own weapon menaced him. The brown robed man deactivated the youth's weapon. He expertly field stripped it, drew out a crystal and before the youth could react dropped it to the ground and crushed it under his heel. The youth collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut. The man bent down, straightened the youth's limbs, moved a few steps away and waited again. The response was predictable. Four forms approached this time. He shook his head.
Kalenath watched in awe as the man fought four enemies at once. Their blades hummed through the air and he... he never drew a weapon. But his strikes, hand and foot were just as expert as any Kalenath had ever seen. Every time he connected to the hilt of an enemy weapon, that enemy fell as if... Oh...they channel their power THROUGH the crystals... He is breaking the crystals. Kalenath grinned as the last enemy fell, and then sobered. All of the remaining enemies were approaching this time.
The man in brown stood panting for breath. It had been a long time since he had fought last. Pain was an old friend however and he acknowledged it and let it fade away. He drew on his power to revitalize himself. He didn't kid himself on being able to defeat them all. But only one mattered, the keystone of the group. Shatter that and all will fall. The leader of the enemy spoke.
“I thought it had to be you.” All of the enemy weapons were live now, and he felt a flicker of fear. He acknowledged it and let it fall away. Nine to one. He nodded sadly. He dropped his cloak, which was in tatters anyway now, and stood before them. They all took a step back. He reached to his back and drew his weapon. Where their blades were red as blood, when his ignited, it shone a deep blue. And instead of one blade, his had two. They regained their poise, but it was too late. He was done waiting. He charged.
Kalenath could not believe his eyes. His kin, from the sounds they were making, couldn't believe it either. That one man was fighting all nine and winning! Where they were fast, he was faster. Where they were powerful, he was precise. Where they stumbled, he was sure of his footing, never overreaching, always in motion. Again and again he would strike and move, blocking, swinging, cutting... Kalenath froze, he wasn't killing them! He was disarming them! In at least four cases, literally. It was utterly impossible but finally only two figures remained standing. The leader with the red weapon and the man with the blue.
“Join me. We can rule this planet.”
“You never did get it, did you? If you had crossed that border every one of you would have died.” The red sword wielder sneered.
“They are weak. They do not...” He broke off as a small sad smile came across the other's face. “What?” He demanded.
“I never should have brought you here William. It is my fault. I acknowledge my error. Now I will correct it.” William raised his blade and charged. The blue sword wielder met him halfway.
Kalenath cursed as both men fell. He looked at his kin who had gathered around him as the strange tableau had played out. All of them had recoiled when the man with the red sword had thrown lightning at the other, but the man with the blue sword had dodged, as if he had anticipated the attack. Then they had both closed, and... They couldn't see what had happened. His heart froze as a form got up from the ground. Then he relaxed. The man deactivated his blue sword and turned towards the border. With a gesture, all of the weapons that the defeated foes had wielded flew towards the border and Kalenath smiled as they formed a neat pile, just on the other side, well within reach. The man reached the border, did something with his sword, and placed it on the pile of weapons. Then he straightened. He came right to the edge of the border, and then spoke.
“The youths?” He asked in a quiet voice that almost hid the pain behind it. Kalenath smelled blood. Lots of blood. Kalenath looked over the crumbled forms of the young humans who had followed William in his mad quest for power. All still breathed.
“They will be judged fairly.” The man nodded.
“You may cross.” Kalenath watched in awe as the man crossed the border before collapsing just on the other side. Kalenath ran to him and Torlen was right behind him. Torlen opened the man's tunic and they all recoiled. Many of the enemy weapons had scored his skin and a few had done more than that. One though... Torlen bared the man's back and there was a hole in that as well. He had been stabbed clean through the body! The cleric reached for his power but was stunned as the man grabbed his hand. His voice, while distorted with effort, was calm.
“The weapons. Destroy them.”
“All of them? Yours is...” Torlen broke off as the man snarled weakly.
“All of them.” Then he collapsed unconscious. Torlen looked at Kalenath and raised an eyebrow. Kalenath summoned the weapons to their side of the border. They fell apart in an untidy pile. He waved his kin to them. Brak took out a small hammer and started smashing them. They were too small to hit properly with his war hammer. He was almost halfway through when Sarina screamed.
They looked at the half elf and she pointed. The youth who had fallen first was awake, but he saw...nothing. They all recoiled and then looked at the man. Then they looked at the pile of weapons. Half of them were shattered. Kalenath sighed. Time to try and clean this mess up...
When he woke, he knew immediately something had gone wrong. A voice he remembered spoke to him.
“You are insane, you know that, right?” Torlen's face came into view. He sighed and hung his head. “In the name of the Maker, WHY?”
The man looked around to gain time to collect his thoughts. He was in a small room, medical gear both technological and power based was arrayed around his bed. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Torlen held a straw to his mouth and he sucked slowly. The water tasted heavenly. He marshaled his thoughts and gathered his strength. He spoke softly; he couldn't seem to get enough air to speak any louder.
“It's the only way that won't happen again.” Torlen looked at him in shock.
“By killing you?”
“I didn't think you would be able to save me.” Torlen chuckled mirthlessly.
“I didn't.” The man in the bed looked at him and then froze as two figures came into view. One he recognized as Kalenath in human form, the other was an elf, one he had heard of. Kalenath spoke.
“Why?” The word was soft but it was also a command.
“Where there is light, there is also darkness. This is the way of things. You have enough problems.” The elf came to his bedside and he shook his head, but Sharlina Gerin bared her teeth and said in an adamant tone.
“I haven't worked so hard to save you to let you fade now.” He looked from her to the dwarf to the dragon in human form and shook his head before relaxing. She laid her hands on his torso and he could feel the power responding to her touch. Then he spoke.
“And the others?” Kalenath sighed.
“The others will live. When we broke their weapons... You know what happened.” it wasn't a question but he nodded anyway.
“Their minds were focused through their weapons.” They would need care and nurture, and retraining to be able to live normal lives, but the threat they had posed was gone.
“So was yours.”
“You should have let me die.”
“You did a great thing.”
“I killed the man who was my best friend.” Kalenath winced, he hadn't just killed the other man, he had dismembered and decapitated him. AFTER the other had punched a hole clean through him with his weapon.
“You saved thirteen lives.” the man in the bed slumped.
“You should have let me die. I need to talk to the Clan Lord.”
“I am his representative here...” Kalenath broke off as the man snarled.
“I need to talk to the Clan Lord.” He repeated. Then he turned his face away from the trio and they were left standing in silence. After a moment they all withdrew.
“You know what he is going to ask.” Torlen couldn't believe it.
“Yeah.” Kalenath was tired. Tired of fighting, tired of killing, tired of people asking him to do things he abhorred. Just plain tired...
“That isn't right! You can't! He is a hero!” Sharlina looked at them both and shuddered. Kalenath drew her into an embrace.
“Yes he is, but it’s not my decision. It's his choice.”
When next he woke, he tensed, he wasn't alone. He looked up, and up and up into the kind eyes of the leader of the assembled dragon clans of Stratos. Rauglothcagor nodded.
“You wished to speak with me?” He summoned his courage, this would be difficult.
“I crave a boon, Lord Rauglothcagor.”
“You have earned any reward I can grant.” The man in the bed nodded.
“I wish to forget.” The dragon nodded sadly. He had expected no less.
“Memories can hurt fledgling, but they can also instruct and heal.”
“I cannot remain here. This power, this ability is too unbalanced. Sooner or later someone will come to balance my use of it for good.” The dragon cocked his head at the young man. “If I leave...” He broke off and the great dragon sighed.
“You may not be able to use it elsewhere. What if an enemy catches you unaware?”
“I will go...home. There is no power on my home world.” The dragon sat back in shock, then nodded, patently unwilling.
“So you wish to forget...”
“Everything since I arrived the first time.” The golden wyrm flinched.
“Youngling...We only do that to criminals who are beyond rehabilitation. You are not a criminal.” The dragon sighed as he saw the resolve in the young human's face. “A compromise then?”
The man sighed and nodded. He would listen at least. The dragon spoke.
“We will take your memories, but not destroy them.” The man's eyes widened but before he could frame a coherent protest the dragon continued. “You may need them again someday. If you ever return.” The man shook his head in silence. “There is no way to know what the future will hold. But, we can do as you wish. Kalenath?” the man looked behind the elder dragon and saw Kalenath in human form carrying... he winced. He had thought those crystals destroyed.
“You bought them. This is a fitting repository. You make me feel like a bastard doing this.” the man nodded, nothing needed to be said. “I will abide by your wishes. Much as I disagree, I will. Strom-Vados, Ed.” Strateans did not say goodbye. They said Strom-Vados, which meant 'good Journey'.
“Strom-Vados.” Lord Rauglothcagor agreed.
“Strom-Vados.” Ed repeated and then Kalenath bent close with the crystal and said “Now.”
He woke up, he wasn't sure where he was or how he had gotten there, but he heard an automobile and nodded. Time to go home. He never noticed a shadow moving away behind him.
Things are rarely what they seem...
Unrelated stories that take place in a setting besides Star Wars...
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