Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Las Vegas Nevada
Current Game: Dungeonseige series
The flight control officer noted the new arrival from Lortu. Only one ship this time. He smiled gently. Why would that idiot send only one ship this time? Still he tapped the button, and the military flight officer logged in.
“This is approach control to unidentified ship. Identification please.”
“Duros freighter Sarcbaliel. Bound for Correlia. One passenger departing this system.” Came back the guttural reply.
“Danger?” asked the Flight control officer.
“Possible.” The Military flight officer mused. “Where did the passenger board?”
“Sarcbaliel, where did your passenger board, what species?”
“Well?” Flight control asked.
“Still odd.” The Military flight officer replied. “I’ll assign a watcher. Let him land.”
“Sarcbaliel. You are cleared for landing approach. Welcome to Echana.”
“Gracious thanks, Echana. End communication.”
Since it was merely a passenger disembarking, Sarcbaliel allowed a shuttle to come alongside, then joined the queue at the hyper-space cannon drive.
The shuttle docked at the small station Echana maintained. The customs official stood at the entryway, clip board in hand. The slim woman that came down the ramp surprised him. She was tall, long red hair running in a bloody sheath to her breasts, dressed in about ten square centimeters of green cloth.
He gulped, shaking his head sharply. “Papers please.” She handed him her ID chip, and he fed it into the reader. Holani Jantri. Citizen of Alderaan. Profession... His eyes sharpened, and all sexual fantasies disappeared.
“You’re a weapon’s merchant?” He asked.
“Yes.” She tilted her head, green eyes amused. “What should a weapons merchant look like? A hulking brute that looks like he uses them instead of buying them?”
Considering the people that usually arrived selling or buying weapons, that pretty much fit them. The customs officer blushed. “Sorry.” He handed the ID chip back. “Purpose of visit?”
“Investigating, possibly purchasing.” She said. “I have heard rumors about the Master Smith.”
“She doesn’t turn out much. Maybe a blade a week. Unless you’re buying for a rich man, she can’t turn out serious production.”
“I was hoping I could find out how she makes them.”
The customs man snorted. “Dream on. No one knows but her.”
“Well I can only try.” Holani caroled. He made a notation, and motioned. “Due to attacks by the Lortuai, all transit is through this station. When you decide to depart, you will have to notify Transit control.”
“Understood.” Holani walked away from the man, thoughtful. The mission had started so smoothly, and she wondered what might go wrong.
Echana was a lush world, so like the parks and forests of her home. The ‘city’ that was the planet’s capital was barely the size of the city she had been born in, maybe fifty thousand inhabitants. All told there were less than a million citizens on the planet, and if it were not for the master smith, she understood why Sogor had considered them ripe for conquest.
But stepping off the shuttle shocked her. On her home world weapons were for hunting, for sport, for the army police and of course criminals. Here everyone from the age of five upward carried swords and knives. As she passed a temple, she saw a pair of eight year olds squaring off and fighting with live uncovered steel in a display that would have brought applause at an exhibition. That was where Sogor went wrong. She mused. Instead of maybe a quarter million, he faced almost a million blades. Even the five year olds were a danger. She filed that information away as she headed to the maglev terminal. It was an hour ride to the sleepy village of Sookor-Chandar, and she spent the time assessing these people. Every third adult carried a ritual brand, and she knew the difficulty of mastering it. With no hand guard the untrained would lose their own fingers wielding it. One of the children, all of seven was making passes with her ritual brand in a slow whirl, her eyes watching the edges of the blade to assure she didn’t menace another passenger. Her mother tapped her hand. For a moment, Holani assumed she would order the weapon sheathed. Instead the woman adjusted her grip and the slow wheel of death continued. No wonder the Echani called swordplay the dance of death!
The car stopped, and she walked down from the station. At the bottom of the covered stairway, four children of about five stood in two pairs five meters apart. As she watched, two of them began juggling three wooden blades each. “Throw!” one called. The children standing aside each tossed another blade into the pattern, and now four blades danced in the air.
“Throw!” The other, a girl called, and two more blades entered the pattern. Suddenly the pattern expanded as ten blades now fountained across the space between the children.
“Throw!’ Now twelve blades flashed past Holani’s path in a pattern as bewildering as it was deadly for the last two blades were steel.
“Children!” a policeman sauntered over, watching the blades in the air. “Let the passengers debark!”
“Yes sir! Throw!” Now fourteen blades flew, but the pattern had lifted enough to clear the walkway.
“Please.” The officer said. Holani felt a slight nudge and a three year old tottered across under the blade bridge holding her older sister’s hand. Nervously Holani followed.
“An off worlder?” The asked.
“How did you- wait, I’m not carrying a blade.”
“Got it in one. How may I direct you?”
“I’m looking for the Master Smith’s shop.”
“Loo-ri street. Two blocks over, turn left, one block then right. On the corner of the next block.”
Holani walked on. Behind her there was a clatter and a lot of good natured laughter as the children gathered up the fallen blades. By the time she reached the street she had been directed to, she had seen on couple of children using all steel knives in a bewildering array of weights and shapes but this time on the sidewalk away from traffic. She turned as directed, and walked up the next block. Another pair of older children were juggling, but instead of knives these were full sized throwing axes. The blades impeded her path yet again.
“It’s called Cnifta.” A voice told her. Beside her stood a seven year old girl with raven black straight hair. “They’re not supposed to block access to a shop. That’s the rules.” She walked forward until the blades flashed past inches from her face. “Hey you nerf-herders! cut us some slack!”
“We’ll cut more than that Revana.” One of the fourteen year olds snapped.
“Want me to call Breia?”
“All right!” The blades were caught, and they glared at them as Holani crossed after the girl.
“Everyone’s afraid of my big sister. Breia is the best at cnifta, and even better at Soo-ti.”
The little girl reached into her hair, pulling out a straight needle thin piece of steel. Then her hand flicked negligently. The shaft punched into the wall, sinking ten centimeters into the hard wood. “Soo-ti.” She explained coolly. “My sister can do that from across the room with her back turned.” She grimaced. “When she’s not busy at the forge like it is lately.”
“This is the shop of the Master Smith?”
“You mean you came to see Breia?” The girl looked at her as if she were a beast in a zoo. “You don’t look rich.”
“I am not, but I work for people who are. Could you direct me?”
Revana grabbed her hand, dragging her into the shop.
It was small and cozy. Every wall had blades on display from the little needles of Soo-ti, balanced and matched blade sets for cnifta, axes like the ones being thrown again outside, and everything from daggers the length of her little finger to ritual brands. An older man stood talking to a customer.
“This lady came to see Breia.” Revanna called, leading her on like a tugboat.
The man nodded, and handed the ritual brand to the prospective customer. “Breia has a commission from the army for more of her special blades, so you’ll have to wait.”
“From what I have seen, it is worth the wait.” The customer brought the blade down on a meter length 40 centimeter thick log, and Holani stared as the blade sliced completely through it.
When Sogor had hired her, the mission had seemed merely difficult. Infiltrate Echana, find the master smith, wrest the secret of the blades produced, and return that information to Lortu. Now it looked to border on the impossible. If the only one who knew how to make a blade was the master smith herself (That surprised her as well) it meant she could not merely carry a datapad, but would have to consider kidnapping instead.
She shrugged. If it came to that, she would consider it.
At a compression forge, a figure stood, swathed in a robe from head to foot. One hand held a piece of almost molten steel in a negligent gloved hand. Only the glove she wore, proof against any temperature below that of a sun kept her from being burned. In the other was a hammer. But she wasn’t striking the metal to form it. She just stood there looking at it.
“Hush.” The voice was a throaty contralto. “I can’t hear the metal’s call.”
The girl stood shaking with repressed excitement. Suddenly the hammer rose, and struck four times, each time in a different place. Then the blade was thrust back into the forge. “Speak softly, so you don’t drown it out.”
“This lady came to see you.”
“If she can speak softly, she can stay. Otherwise she must leave.” The Breia pulled the blade out of the fire, striking it again, but only three times. Again each time in different places. “As for you little bullroarer, one loud word and you are out.”
“I came-” Holani stopped talking as a hand came up.
“My ears are excellent, woman. Whisper.”
“I came to commission a blade.” Holani whispered angrily.
“At the moment, I am taking no new commissions.” The blade came out, was struck this time with four blows then returned to the fire. “I do not forsee this changing unless Sogor dies and this war ends.” Out, three blows, in, out two blows, back in.
“We can wait.”
“Not unless you wish to wait for ten years.” The head under it’s hood cocked. “I have orders already covering that much time,” Out strike, in. Out, strike, strike in.
“I would feel better if I could see your eyes, woman.” Holani hissed.
The blade went into a cooling tank. The figure turned around. The front of the hood had a mask of metal. The gloved hands rose, lifting the hood away, then removing the mask. Holani stepped back in shock.
Breia’s face was marred by scars from above her expressive mouth to just below her hairline Her nose was pitted, and her eyes... Her eyes were empty sockets.
The master smith was blind.