The Writing of Cloud Buchholz

Brother Brighton was not, nor had he ever been, skilled with a blade. His gifts, as the Abbot wearily observed, included eating, looking aloof, and smelling of manure, none of which added to the reputation of the priory.

It was not that Brother Brighton was unliked among his brothers, for he enjoyed the friendship of them all. The simple and sad fact was that his sensibilities were a bit slower and slightly stranger than the fellows he fondly called family.

Brother Brighton had become heart-wrenchingly aware of his limitations one afternoon when the prior scolded him for leaving a basket of vegetables in the stable where they were quickly gobbled up by the horses.

As punishment, Brother Brighton was reprimanded and sent to his room without supper, which, given his passion for eating, made him cry and wail all the more.

In his excited and sorrowful state, Brother Brighton ran past his room, down the hallway, up the stairs, and into a part of the priory he was not allowed to enter. By the time his spirit had calmed, he found himself surrounded by ancient relics and weapons that, having been untouched for years, were layered with dust.

He admired the metal helms and heavy shields. He was mesmerized by the amulets and jewel encrusted rings. He gawked at the spears and blades nestled into bundles against the wall. His glee, however, quickly turned to terror when he recognized the emblem of the Gray King.

It was common knowledge, even to the dim Brother Brighton, that objects of the Gray King's rule were forbidden within the kingdom and anyone who possessed them would, like the Gray King, be beheaded.

Brother Brighton did not have the sense to wonder why these forbidden objects remained in an untouched room of the priory, nor did he consider who their present owner might be for he was overcome with an idea that could restore his standing with the prior and, if he was quick enough, also his supper.

There was one object that had not been branded with the Gray King's symbol. It was an oddly shaped sword, slightly smaller than the others, with a long white handle and a blade shimmering with specs of red. It was light and well balanced and, though the red specs showed signs of rust, Brother Brighton knew the sword was easily worth a basket of fresh vegetables.

And so, in the short-sighted nature he was accustomed to, young Brother Brighton took the sword, snuck out of the priory, and, with the optimistic notion of selling the blade, traveled to town.

He would not have the chance to negotiate terms with a blacksmith or merchant for his arrival in Hollow's Crossing was interrupted by a band of brutish thugs harassing the townsfolk. And though Brother Brighton had taken an oath to help the helpless, he had no intention of interceding on anyone's behalf.

He slipped behind a bale of hay and tightly shut his eyes, hoping to remain unnoticed. When one of the brutes detected him and demanded his possessions or his life, Brother Brighton was too frightened to even cry.

He reached at his side to surrender the sword, but when his fingers gripped the handle, he felt a strange fire surge through his arm and shoulder.

Instantly, and completely unaware, Brother Brighton parried the brute's blade and severed his arm from its socket.

The man blinked with surprise and staggered back. He glanced a few paces to his right where his lifeless arm had landed. Then he collapsed.

Brother Brighton, now more terrified than before, tried to apologize to the unconscious man. As he attempted to move forward, his arm jerked right and, to his astonishment, the red speckled blade caught a bulbous metal mace as it descended toward his head.

The sword twisted and, in a single swing, parted the second brute's head from his body. The head hit the dirt while the body took three more steps before joining it.

The bandits, after seeing their leader so easily beheaded, fled Hollow's Crossing and disbanded shortly thereafter.

Despite the battered peasants' applause, Brother Brighton still felt sickened by his actions for it was as if his arm moved of its own volition. He hid the sword within his robe and returned to the priory carrying three baskets of fresh vegetables that he had received as gifts for his heroic, though unintentional, service.

The truth, which young Brother Brighton had yet to learn, was that the red speckled blade had had a multitude of owners since its creator had discarded it, the most recent being the Gray King.

Years before he had earned, or more precisely stolen, the title of King, The Gray King had acquired the blade from a gray mountain troll nearly three days journey from Hollow's Crossing.

The King, then a young soldier known as Vallis Muridus, was part of a group of soldiers sent to fortify the roads between Hollow's Crossing and the passage into Shadowcrest. The task was not an easy one for the path stretched across the unlived wilderness, and many monsters and beasts needed to be slain before progress could be made.

After nearly a full day of fighting, as the soldiers reached the shadow of the mountain, a fat gray troll smashed their ranks with a tree trunk and proceeded to eat the men alive, sucking their skin and bone out through the holes of their armor.

No matter how valiantly they fought, the soldiers could not overtake the troll for his skin was tougher than the hardest of rocks and their spears and swords shattered on impact.

Young Vallis Muridus, being both clever and bold, pleaded for just one thing before he was to be eaten. He asked graciously to see the troll's wondrous bridge.

The troll looked at the young man with confusion for he did not, nor had he ever been in possession of a bridge.

Vallis continued to lay his trap carefully. He acted surprised and pondered, quite loudly, how a troll as fat and strong as the one before him could not be in possession of a bridge.

The gray troll, innately stupid and immensely jealous, demanded a bridge immediately though he did not in fact know what a bridge was or what he would do with it.

Vallis humbly offered to build the troll a bridge for a few measly items in the troll's possession - the items included two sacks worth of gold coins, the red speckled sword, a worn cart and, of course, his life.

The troll, Thrall Stinkerbottom, having already devoured the other soldiers of Vallis Muridus' company and being quite content, agreed to the young man's terms and swore an oath to protect the bridge once it was built.

Many citizens of the kingdom believe that is how the King, Vallis Muridus, affectionately became known as the Gray King, but that is merely a rumor spread to cast doubt on the truth.

The origin of his name came about some weeks after he usurped the throne and seized the kingdom. Though he was young when he possessed the crown, he appeared older and more worn. Some attributed his aged appearance to the three year war he fought to claim the kingdom, but most knew that not even the most rugged battle could twist time so quickly.

The day the King acquired his nickname was the same day Valerian Woodwolf, a swordsman and assassin, made an attempt on his life.

Valerian challenged the King to a duel, and because of the King's oath to the House of Sun and Steel; he had no choice but to accept. The battle lasted nearly a full day and half the night, carrying with it a heavy toll.

The King drew the red speckled sword and a silver goblin shield while Valerian relied on two short blades of blue steel.

Valerian swung first and quick, but his best attempts were deflected with ease and the King swiftly countered with a flurry of thrusts. Normally, a single strike from the red speckled sword meant death, but Valerian dodged and parried attacks the way a bird slips between branches on a tree.

The swordplay broke through the large hall, across the courtyard, and into the north spire, eventually ending on the crumbling west wall overlooking the cliffs and water below. The King and Valerian traded blows on the edge of the deathly drop.

The King twisted, parried, and thrust the silver goblin shield into Valerian's unguarded nose. He tumbled backwards, losing one of his blue blades over the edge of the cliff. The King moved with inhuman speed and strength and Valerian knew he had lost.

Instead of suffering the imminent and uncomfortable death he mostly deserved, Valerian jumped from the ledge and took his chances with the ocean below.

The King, though victorious, had suffered a wound that was irreversible. This wound was not inflicted by the adept Valerian Woodwolf though it was indeed a result of the duel.

The King had entered the battle as a relatively young man, but he ended it as a feeble and weary old one. His hair and beard were gray. His back slouched. His skin was wrinkled and spotted with age. And he spoke in drawn-out whispers.

To the surprise of all who had observed the duel, this transformation had occurred in mere hours. The more vicious the King fought, the older he seemed to become until he needed help lifting even the small, silver goblin shield.

The Royal Council hid the King in the castle for many years until his appearance more closely matched his age, but those who had seen the incredible battle affectionately began calling him the Gray King.

Brother Brighton was not aware of these events, nor would he have been smart enough to link them to his current troubles for thinking was not one of his best traits. He did, however, notice deep creases on his pudgy cheeks and around his eyes which had not been there the day before.

He attributed these worry lines to the excitement in Hollow's Crossing and not to the red speckled sword hidden under his bed. If he had known the history of the blade, perhaps he would not have carried it with him as he traveled about the priory, but the weight of it on his belt gave him a sense of confidence and worth.

His self-indulgence proved useful on one occasion when a fire sprite accidentally set the winery ablaze. Fire sprites have a particular taste for honey beer and raspberry wine which the priory had in abundance, since it was their primary source of income. And though fire sprites are generally friendly, or as friendly as a floating ball of fire can be, they are more than willing to burn through a wall to get at a sweet and intoxicating nectar.

Normally young Brother Brighton would have ignored the cries for help coming from within the burning building, but Gali Riazzi, the tavern owner's daughter, was at the priory running errands for her father.

Brother Brighton, like most men after looking upon Gali Riazzi, was immediately in love and felt compelled to impress her for her beauty was far greater than any other within the kingdom.

He gripped the white handle of his sword as a means to collect his courage, and then he entered the burning building to save his trapped brothers.

The old wood burned bright and the flames licked at the young Brother Brighton's robe, and though the fabric sizzled and caught fire, his skin remained unharmed, and in fact quite cool. He could not explain this phenomenon, nor did he particularly care, for the ceiling beams cracked and fell toward his head.

Instantly the red speckled sword swung up, cutting the heavy wood in two. The blade was so quick and focused it was as if even the air had been sliced in half. The sudden collapse sent flames spiraling up through the roof, enshrouding Brother Brighton in a pillar of fire and ash. His clothes and shoes disintegrated before his eyes and were carried away by the wave of heat.

Slightly embarrassed, but completely unharmed, Brother Brighton stepped through the flickering flames naked as the day he was born.

He found his three brothers cowering in a corner, fenced in by the fire. He had grown accustomed to the other brothers laughing and jeering at his own cowardice, but in that instant, when he saw them weeping and pleading for mercy, he felt a surge of power tighten around his spirit.

Overcome with confidence, he swung the sword down at the flames. A razor sharp burst of air extinguished the fire and tore a hole through the stone wall. The four of them escaped through the opening and, like the other residents of the priory, wearily watched the winery burn to the ground.

The other brothers hailed Brother Brighton as a champion and hero for his timely, though completely unexpected, courage. His survival was a mystery and a miracle for not even a single scratch could be found on his body. The only strangeness was that his hair had gone gray around his temples.

Though denser than most, Brother Brighton had, by now, begun to suspect the red speckled blade of being more than simply a blade. The thought both excited and terrified him for he could not imagine the other strengths it possessed.

One of the previous users of the blade, Azura Azazzi, while using the sword's fire immunity to scavenge a volcano for her missing father, discovered another property of the blade that would unfortunately follow her to her grave.

Her father did not make it a habit of visiting volcanoes and, in truth, spent little time outside the confines of his metal works for it was, aside from gambling and his daughter, his greatest passion. His reputation as a blacksmith was known throughout the kingdom and, to such a degree that many claimed it was not the Gray King who had won the three-year war, but actually Szevor Azazzi due to his finely crafted weapons.

This was, of course, partly true. Szevor Azazzi's emblem, which marked every weapon, shield, and armor of the Gray King's army, had garnered so much fame and respect during the war that the Gray King took the emblem as part of his own.

The Gray King paid his good and long time friend with this honor by giving him nearly a third of the gold taken during the assault on the capital city, which Szevor Azazzi was more than willing to accept since his gambling debt was exceedingly long and well overdue.

He designed a slightly different emblem for himself and continued his trade as a blacksmith. Though his abilities as a blacksmith were celebrated, his skills as a gambler were almost equally renowned for their awfulness.

He lost at Ogre Dice, Faerie Bones, and especially Seersight, despite his passion for it. Soon even the success of his business could not match the failure of his gambling and his debt was greater than it had ever been. As a result, Orewiin Triseltree demanded immediate payment or the wedding vows of Szevor's beautiful daughter.

The only thing Szevor loved more than gambling and metal works was his daughter, and his heart ached that she should be punished for his foolish mistakes.

He decided to craft a set of armor so incredible that a gray mountain troll could not crush it, nor a red goblin pierce it with a spear. It would be so durable that not even Valerian blue steel would leave a scratch after striking it.

The armor would more than pay for his debt. The only reason he had yet to craft it was that a scavenger had not yet been brave enough to bring him the deadly materials required for its construction and so, with a guilty heart, Szevor Azazzi travelled alone to the volcano in search of the first set of ingredients.

In order to melt the ore and fold the metal to the degree that would be required, regular fire could not be used for it would not burn hot enough. Only Dragon's fire from an orange-tailed cave dragon, which resides in volcanoes, would have the consistency and temperature needed.

When Szevor had not returned after nearly a week, Azura went searching for him. Though it did not belong to her, and despite instructions not to touch it, she brought the red speckled sword for she knew it contained powers that would protect her from the flames.

While there, among the molten lava and toxic gasses, she was confronted by a swarm of red winged dragon larks. Dragon larks are small, about the size of a cat, with mild fire-breathing and an inquisitive temperament.

A single dragon lark is a mild annoyance, but a swarm had been known to destroy whole caravans and burn travelers so badly they died within moments.

Azura, having spent years testing her father's weapons and armor, was exceptionally skilled with a blade, but she knew a swarm of dragon larks could easily overtake her. As a reflex she lifted the blade in a defensive gesture.

The dragon larks cowered at its presence. They tucked their tail between their legs and skittered back into the small crevices of the cave. Whichever direction she lifted the blade, the dragon larks immediately fled. They reacted to the blade as if it was a recognized predator.

With an unobstructed path, it didn't take Azura long to reach the interior of the volcano. She found torn cloth resembling her father's wardrobe. She followed it through the maze of caverns until she reached a nest of dragon eggs. There were at least five eggs, each one speckled with shades of orange.

She saw her father curled in a ball and half unconscious at the rear of the cave. She ran to him. He was alive, but just barely. Scratches covered his body and there were several long gashes across his head and legs. She slid under his arm and tried her best to carry him, but he was heavy and they moved slow.

A shriek echoed off the walls of the cave. Azura looked up in time to see an orange tailed cave dragon descending on their path. It screeched and stretched its long, sharp wings across the breadth of the cave.

Azura lifted the sword, readying herself for a fight she knew she could not win. The dragon's eyes widened at the sight of the red speckled blade. It pulled its wings back and lowered its head in concession.

There was a softness to its gaze and a glimmer of respect. Azura did not stop to ponder the strange gesture; instead, she seized the moment by carrying her father through the caverns and into the safety of the woods.

The moment they returned home, Szevor had the red speckled blade returned to the Gray King and Azura never got the chance to explore the blade's extraordinary power over dragons.

Even if the blade had remained, Azura would not have had the time to use it for she had to immediately prepare for her engagement and eventual wedding to Orewiin Triseltree since her father had failed to pay his debt.

Brother Brighton had noticed that in some ways the red speckles on the blade resembled scales, but he had never once associated the speckles with those of a dragon's for Brother Brighton had never actually seen a dragon.

He did however, due to his overzealous confidence, believe that he could slay a dragon if he was ever confronted by one.

After the winery incident, he openly began carrying the sword around the priory and quit his afternoon choirs in order to practice his swordsmanship which was a horrendously awkward sight.

He swung the blade in unwieldy directions and vehemently attacked a bale of hay, missing it nearly a third of the time. The other brothers could not question Brother Brighton's methods for, when the time came and no matter the odds, he was always victorious.

Since the honey beer and raspberry wine had been devoured by the fire sprite, the priory had barely enough money to satisfy their daily needs and when winter came, they would most certainly starve.

It was decided, purely out of desperation, that Brother Brighton would enter the annual arena tournament held by the House of Sun and Steel. The victor would receive three bricks of solid gold and the title of Champion of the West Roads.

The three bricks of gold would be enough for the priory to last two winters and half of a third. The prior, though reluctant, gave Brother Brighton his blessing.

The tournament was broken into three parts. First, battle against beasts. Second, battle of similar armaments. And finally, battle for champion.

Brother Brighton's first opponent was a blue tongued carnecorus. Its big bulbous eyes protruded from the side of its head and its long blue tongue hung from its wide, toothless mouth. Its tiny legs barely touched the ground for the majority of its weight rested on its two muscular appendages, which in a perverse way resembled arms. Its rough hide dripped with slime, and, given its intense slouch, it measured just about the same height as Brother Brighton.

The red speckled sword twisted left, deflecting the blue tongue as it shot across the arena. The force sent Brother Brighton tumbling to the right, but he regained his footing quickly.

The tongue darted out again, but this time the sword jerked forward, splitting the tongue in two. The carnecorus jerked back with pain and galloped to the left.

The sword yanked Brother Brighton to the right in pursuit.

The carnecorus leaped into the air and swung its sharp claws at Brother Brighton's neck. The blade caught the claws and redirected the creature's momentum, sending it into the wall.

It hit hard, shook its head, and stumbled forward slightly disoriented. Rage darkened its eyes. The creature heaved twice then spewed yellow vomit at Brother Brighton. It sizzled like acid and burnt through his robe. He threw the robe to the ground before the yellow poison touched his skin.

His arm and shoulder jolted with pain as if on fire, but not from the acid. The pain originated at the tips of his fingers where they tightly gripped the white handle of the sword. It was as if the red speckles were pulsing to the rhythm of his heart.

The sword felt lighter, but at the same time his heart suddenly felt heavier.

The blade heaved backwards, sending Brother Brighton into a roll. His blade arm jerked upward, directly into the chest of the creature.

As Brother Brighton finished turning, the blade slit the creature from its chest to its waist, killing it in single stroke.

The crowd howled and cheered while Brother Brighton walked to the exit. When he sheathed the sword, his joints began to ache and he felt unusually short of breath.

For the second tier of the tournament, Brother Brighton fought Knight Errant Unni Escalus - a skilled warrior who favored a battle axe and, when necessary, a broad and crescent shaped short sword.

Escalus was a large and tall man, nearly a head taller than Brother Brighton. His armor had a blue glimmer and a sigil belonging to the red wizards of the east. His axe had similar symbols, though Brother Brighton could only guess at their meaning.

Escalus bowed to the head of the House of Sun and Steel, then to the crowd, and finally to Brother Brighton.

Brother Brighton quickly and awkwardly bowed in return.

Escalus drew his axe with incredible speed and slammed it into the dirt of the arena. The earth rippled. Four boulders erupted from the ground and spiraled toward Brother Brighton. He rolled, dodging one, as another cut across his shoulder.

He yelped with pain and stumbled to the dirt. His shoulder bled, but just barely. He drew the red speckled blade and felt the sharp tingling pain in his arm once again, but the pain stretched across his whole body now.

The blade darted forward, diverting the axe head while slicing the glimmering breast plate. At the instant of impact, the armor radiated an intense gust of scorching wind.

Brother Brighton was flung into the air and tumbled across the arena. His skin would have been blistering if the red speckled blade did not shield him from the heat.

He begrudgingly stood and lifted his sword toward Escalus. The crowd cheered and hollered for more.

Escalus sprinted forward, swinging the axe horizontally. Brother Brighton pulled back, sidestepping the arc, while slamming the hilt of his sword into the back of Escalus's head.

The crowd gasped for in that moment, Brother Brighton's hair had gone gray.

Escalus rolled forward, swinging his axe as he turned. Brother Brighton caught it with the red speckled blade. The symbols on the axe began to glow and Escalus's strength seemed to double.

Brother Brighton slammed his free hand into Escalus's nose and twisted the blade against his axe hand.

The axe dropped and Escalus fell to his knees. Brother Brighton's arm shimmered with speckles of red and in an instant Escalus felt the blade lightly touch his throat. He lifted his arms in defeat.

The crowd screamed with excitement as Escalus left the arena feeling like a lesser man.

Brother Brighton tried to sheath the red speckled sword, but his hand would not release it. He pulled harder until finally his hand came free, but bits of his flesh stuck to the white handle.

He immediately collapsed, feeling as if a fire had been lit within his chest. His muscles felt knotted and his joints refused to bend. The prior and two brothers had to carry him back to the tent.

They laid him in a bed where he stayed for a full day and night. He could not explain what was happening to his body, but he knew it was a side effect of the red speckled sword.

His arm glimmered with blotches of red identical to the blade, and he felt a strange need to hold it once again. He could not say why, but he had a strong sense that the sword was much more than an enchanted piece of metal.

And, in a sense, he was correct for the sword was not enchanted, nor, in fact, was it made of metal. The original owner of the sword, Wynn Oxx, was a kind man of common birth who kept the sword not as a weapon, but as a remembrance.

A long time ago, when the kingdom was still only a small collection of tribes, when the Swamp Singers of the South and the Nine Giants of the North kept order and held the world in subterfuge, it was the red winged sky dragons of the east that saw the potential of humanity.

The dragons, once the dominant species of the realm, had been pushed to near extinction and exiled to the east by the Swamp Singers of the South. Their numbers remained too small to go to war and they feared their home would forever be forfeit. But one dragon, Ossk Skevv, noticed how quickly the humans were capable of breeding and realized how swiftly an army could be made.

The other Dragon Lords agreed, but the humans were weak. Nearly two hundred would be needed to defeat a single swamp singer, many more for a giant of the north. Weapons would be required - weapons stronger than iron and steel.

And so, out of pride and desperation, the Dragon Lords performed an ancient and forbidden ritual to guarantee their young's survival.

Five of the Dragon Lords were chosen. They danced in a circle of vibrant blue flame and sang to the spirits of their fallen. A shaman's brew was spread across their wings and the scales of their body until the air was heavy with its smell and the five dragons collapsed from the pain.

A swarm of faeries rose out of the earth and bit into the dragon's sinewy bodies, removing a portion of bone, muscle and scales. Then, using an ancient red goblin recipe, the faeries fashioned the organic pieces into five weapons suitable for a human's physique.

The dragons distributed the five weapons to human soldiers chosen at random for the dragons knew that the weapons could not belong to one human for long.

The weapons drew their power from the life-force of their wielder and humans were far too weak to handle a dragonborn weapon for long. It aged them. And though it would not kill them, their bones would become so brittle; a single step could shatter their body.

The dragons knew of this risk, but felt there were so many humans that when one fell another would swiftly appear to wield the weapon at the following battle.

Wynn Oxx was one of the first five humans to wield a weapon, and unfortunately, the only one not to be killed by it.

He travelled south, battling three swamp singers before becoming feeble. He fought valiantly and deliberately took difficult assignments so that his fellow soldiers could avoid the brunt of the battle.

His noble heart caught the attentions of Ossk Skevv, who did not realize humans were capable of such compassion. Skevv suddenly felt a sense of guilt for it was his plan that had sent so many humans to their deaths.

Defying the wishes of the Dragon Lords, Skevv flew into battle and took hold of Wynn Oxx before the blade had crippled him. They flew far away from the battle and hid deep in the woods.

By the time they had landed, Wynn was already a very old man. All the hair had fallen from his head and he could barely walk, let alone stand.

Skevv returned Wynn to his hometown of Icehedge and remained there to care for him until his death some years later.

The red speckled sword, as the Dragon Lords had predicted, was acquired by another soldier and carried into the following battle where it proved to be especially effective against the swamp singers.

Brother Brighton was not aware of the weapon's pedigree, nor would it have mattered much for the prior insisted that Brother Brighton continue the tournament. There was too much at stake to withdraw now.

And so, with a stern look and unapologetic heart, the prior and the two other brothers pulled Brother Brighton out of bed and carried him to the arena.

The opponent for the final match was a red wizard by the name of Faye Rayner. She was of average height and slender, wearing a scarlet robe. Her arms and neck were covered with colorful and intricate tattoos.

In one hand she held a short serpent-tipped sword, in the other a white wand. Her rings and necklaces had a faint purple glow. She looked confident and worse, eager.

Brother Brighton drop to his knees and coughed. He felt dizzy and sick. Bits of his hair had begun to fall out and some lay on the dirt in front of him. The prior tossed the sword at Brother Brighton's side and said a short blessing for him then quickly left.

Brother Brighton stared at Faye Rayner. He didn't feel like fighting anymore. He didn't feel like being champion either, but he had to fight or die or worse, starve.

He took hold of the red speckled sword and the crowd began to cheer for blood.

Faye flicked her wand and a burst of lightning cut through the air.

Brother Brighton rolled left, avoiding it. His body tingled as energy surged between the blade and his arm.

Faye flicked the white wand again.

Brother Brighton dipped right, swinging his sword into the dirt. A whirlwind of dust leaped across the arena at Faye. She thrust her hand forward. Her purple ring shimmered as the dust flew around her.

She swayed the wand through the air in a circular pattern. A cold mist swirled above her head, then she slammed the wand downward. Three lines of razor sharp ice raced across the dirt, slicing Brother Brighton across the thigh.

He groaned and tried to move, but his leg was frozen in place.

Faye flicked the wand again, sending another bolt of lightning.

Brother Brighton deflected it with his sword. His arm quivered at the force. He knew he wouldn't be able to take another direct hit from her wand.

His blade glimmered from the heat of the lightning. He shrugged and shoved the hot blade against the ice around his leg. Almost immediately the ice melted. He limped left while the feeling returned to his foot.

Faye swung the wand in another pattern, this time at her side. The air around her crackled and flickered with intense heat.

Suddenly a stream of liquid fire and molten lava exploded from her wand. It enveloped Brother Brighton and the crowd gasped.

Brother Brighton was, of course, unharmed for the red speckled blade protected him from the heat and flames, but he felt a strange sensation across his body. It was like every part of his body was working without his consent.

His arm shoved the blade outward and began moving forward though the burning liquid. It spilled across his shoulders and streamed down his back, but to him it felt only like a strong breeze.

His arm thrust the sword through the lava, splitting the white wand in two. Faye twisted back surprised. She awkwardly swung the serpent-tipped short sword.

Brother Brighton parried her blade and punched her across the jaw. She stumbled back and before she could regain her footing, Brother Brighton was already behind her with the tip of his blade lightly touching the back of her neck.

The crowd was speechless.

After stepping out from the lava, Brother Brighton appeared old and decrepit, as if he had already been dead for some time. His arms and legs were as thin as twigs. His cheeks were sullen and his skin was nearly transparent.

The sword suddenly felt very heavy in his hand. His strength was fleeting and his head weary. He stumbled backwards. When his body hit the ground, it shattered into gray powder and mixed with the dirt. The red speckled blade clattered beside him completely unharmed.

The crowd gasped with disbelieve then suddenly cheered and howled with excitement for they had never seen such an intense duel.

They attributed Brother Brighton's demise to the powerful magic of Faye Rayner. She, of course, could not explain how her opponent had turned to dust and, luckily, did not have to.

The head of the House of Sun and Steel pronounced her the Champion of the West Roads and presented her with the three bricks of gold which the prior enviously glared at.

The red speckled sword was returned to the priory and placed in storage where it collected dust for many more years.

After the tournament, while inspecting the sword, the prior thought he noticed an additional red spec glimmering on the blade, but he could not be sure and thought little of it after that day.