The Usurper

The alternative title for this is “Life Debt”. Yes, I used a line from Phantom Menace. No, it doesn’t make that movie any less bad (especially since that particular life debt never went anywhere). But still, what if it had? What does a good ‘life debt’ look like? Enjoy!

Sir Arano Ensremeso gazed around the area at the sudden cry he had heard, just out of sight. Hearing it again, he turned the reins and spurred his horse, ready to step in to help whoever it was that needed aid. His horse leapt to the top of a crop of rocks, and he looked down into a small valley, where seven brigands were accosting some nobleman. He had fallen to the ground, a nasty wound on his head, and his aggressors were discussing what to do with him.

“Let’s just kill him and loot him,” one suggested. “And be done with the whole thing.”

“I don’t think so!” declared Arano. “Release the man, or else I shall visit upon you cold death.”

The scoundrels looked up at him surprise. A couple of them started laughing.

“What are you going to do about us?” another asked defiantly.

Arano drew his sword. “This is Vorise, my magic sword. When it swings, it sends great gusts of air. You will not survive it!”

With that, he spurred his horse, and leapt down the cliff into the brigands, swinging his weapon. True to his word, blasts of wind issued from the blade, knocking Arano’s enemies into the air, or else against the rocks. In just a few moments, the entire band was unconscious, leaving the nobleman on the ground, staring blinking up at him. Arano dismounted, helping the man to his feet.

“Are you alright, sir?”

“I’m…fine,” the nobleman said breathlessly. “Thank you. I think you saved my life.”

“Don’t mention it! And don’t bother with payment. All I need is to see justice done!”

He helped the man onto one of the brigand’s horses, before mounting his own horse and riding down the road, back on his original route, toward the city of Meste, capitol of the Kingdom of Lintelen. There, Arano was a knight of the realm, and was there by request of the king.

* * *

“I have called you all here,” the king began. “To answer a threat that is stirring within this nation, yes, perhaps even within these walls. I fear that this realm is in danger of traitors, who would cut off the head and put their own in its place. This must not be! Therefore, I command you, urge you, to find this insurrection, and bring it to swift justice!”

Arano stood within the ranks of knights assembled in the great hall of the palace, attentive to the words of the monarch speaking from his throne, all the while contemplating who would ever be so dishonorable as to start a coup such as the king described. However, his thoughts were interrupted when a voice shouted from the back of the hall.

“That would all be well, if the insurrection didn’t find you first!”

The knights turned, to see no less than an army assembled outside the gates of the palace. And there, at its head, was the very nobleman Arano had rescued not a day ago, wielding a wicked wooden staff in one hand.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded the king.

“We are the insurrection, the rebels, the usurpers – whatever demeaning terms you have for us. Do you know what this is?”

The nobleman held forth the staff in his hand. At its head, a large gem glowed red.

“Is that not the Staff of Ruisten?” asked the king.

“This is power,” continued the nobleman, as if the king had not spoken. “And a way to obtain more of it. And that is how I intend to use it. This nation is mine!”

With that, he pointed the staff at the nearest night, sending a great red blast that knocked the knight off his feet, to land several feet away, dead. And then the army charged in. Arano drew his sword with the other knights, rushing to fight off the incoming rebels. The trouble was that they weren’t a mindless rabble of peasants, but rather a trained force of mercenaries – experts in killing. Additionally, the nobleman’s staff was easily picking off the knights one by one.

Fortunately, many of the knights, Arano included, possessed magical weaponry, giving them an equal footing against their opponents. If they had had the gate, not even the leader of the insurrection would have been able to get through; but as they didn’t, the battle spread all over the hall, the usurper walking up the center toward the king, only pausing to blast some unfortunate knight out of his way.

About halfway through his stroll toward the king, Arano leapt in the way, sword at the ready. The nobleman looked at him, and a look of surprise on his face told the knight that the man recognized him. The usurper laughed.

“This must be quite a shock to you,” he said. “Realizing I’m the man you rescued yesterday! I bet you’re reconsidering your decision then!”

“It’s never wrong to save a life,” replied Arano. “Whoever it may belong to.”

“Quite an irony, isn’t it? You saved my life, now I’m going to kill you.” He sent a blast of red lightning at Arano, who deflected it with a swipe of his powerful sword.

“I don’t think it works that way. You see, you’re indebted to me! You owe me your life!” Arano marched forward, thrusting his sword. The nobleman just barely got out of the way before the gust of wind rushed past him.

“Only if we both live by your code of honor, and I do not.” Another blast rocketed out of the staff, and Arano rolled over the floor to avoid it.

“I think you misunderstand,” said Arano as he again slashed with Vorise at the usurper. “A life debt isn’t part of some human code of honor! It’s part of the Law of God, etched into the very core of magic and human mind!”

“Bah!” The two of them were now within arm’s reach, dancing around each other as they swung at each other, avoiding each fatal blow by inches. Around them, the battle still raged, a line drawn somewhere around the center of the hall, where the few remaining knights fought desperately against the ruthless mercenaries atop corpses of soldiers of both sides alike.

At last, though, a blast from the usurper successfully knocked away Vorise from Arano’s grip, leaving the knight defenseless.

“Let’s test this theory of yours,” the nobleman said cruelly as he pointed his staff at the knight.

The red lightning erupted from the staff, blasting into Arano, sending him flying back. However, as he flew back, he was also vaguely aware that the lightning, after hitting him, had ricocheted back, crashing into the usurper himself.

Arano got groggily to his feet, shaken by the blow delivered by the nobleman. There he lay, dead, sprawled out on the floor. Somewhere out of his range of focus, the knight was aware of imperial soldiers rushing into the hall, engaging the mercenaries and rounding them up with the remaining knights. But Arano just walked to the staff, taking it up in his hand.

He turned, to see the king standing beside him, hand on his shoulder. The king had a worried expression, as though unsure what Arano would do. Well, Arano knew what to do. He took the staff in both hands and snapped it over his knee.

“That’s enough of that.”

Next week: werewolves!

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