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Dark Lords, Book One: Shadows, Chapter 14

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Chapter Fourteen

Edges

The Royal Avalon Spots Club, New Oxford, Albion, Realm

Just darting to the car and out again to the Sports Club had left them both soaked. The crack of thunder shook the ground. Though it was daytime the lightening’s strobe effect had Alex blinking spots from his eyes. They hurried through the doors of the Sports Club.

“That storm is tearing.” Alex said wiping water from his face.

“We have been expecting spring showers for some time.” Marcus smiled, wiping water from his eyes. “Yes, that one is definitely a major system.”

Marcus motioned Alex to the front desk. Like everything else on Albion, the Sports Club was a balance of old vid charm, beauty and elegance coupled with modern efficiency. The lady at the front, her badge read Loran, had Alex sign in with a ‘pen’ as Marcus’ guest.

“Hello, Alex, I do not know if Marcus has invited you yet?” Loran looked to Marcus, who turned bright red.

“A bunch of us are heading to Miller’s Road tonight.” Marcus shrugged.

“He was hoping Johanna would bring it up.” Loran smiled. “You are more than welcome. Think about it.”

They entered the gym area. Eight matches were going on. Three were epee, the rest foil.

“That Durand guy and Mr. Williams invited me to their party tonight.”

“If you want to go—”

“No!” People looked over. Alex shook his head. Marcus looked at him concerned. “It’s just that people like them aren’t used to hearing no. Especially from someone like me.”

“Everyone in the Realm has the right to personal safety. I can assure you—”

“I’m not an exotic, Marcus. It wasn’t me they wanted at their party—”

“I overheard what Mr. Durand said,” Marcus’ face had gone red again, as he stared at those fencing. Alex could feel his own face heating up. “I assure you that Daniella and Johanna are safe.”

“Yeah, but he was pointing at Abby.” Marcus turned sharply, looking at Alex who nodded. “I’m just worried, that’s all.”

“I will inform the Armorum.” Marcus caught the arm of a young man. “Kelvin, this is Alex.”

“We met in passing at the Gala.” Kelvin smiled as he shook Alex’s hand.

“I need to make a comm. Could you show Alex around?”

Kelvin nodded. Marcus left and Kelvin began showing Alex the display stands and trophy cases.

“I understand that you fence?”

“Actually, I’m better with rapiers and Japanese katanas, they’re my specialty.”

“Look, if you have seen one display case you have seen them all. Let’s get you into some gear. There are plenty of open mats.” Kelvin brushed aside Alex’s lack of equipment, pointing out that he would fit the gear of several members, including his own. In the men’s change room, Arthur Mulder offered his spares.

Arthur’s personal comm beeped. “Oh, got to take this.”

“Hi, Jean!” Kelvin called as Arthur, with a glare, headed out the door to the entrance hall.

“Hot date?” Alex asked.

“Oh, yeah. She likes his bite.”

Alex wasn’t sure what to make of that.

“Quick. There is an opening on four. Rapiers, hurry up.” Kelvin said handing Alex Arthur’s face guard.

Covered from head to toe, Alex picked a rapier and dagger set, the hilts were a French design. He went through some stretches. His eyes wondered to a display of hand and a-half swords, he knew their other name. These didn’t look like reproductions. Placing the rapier and dagger down he picked up one that looked like a design he’d seen in his D&D Dark Tower VR game. The weapon had a disk shaped pommel.

“How apropos, a bastard sword for a bastard.”  Alex turned at the voice. The tall man’s face had a faint smirk and a fine fencing scar on his right cheekbone. “I jest, of course.”

Alex clenched his jaw. This was sword play, and the guy wasn’t going to get under his skin. He knew the maxim, should either the wielder or the steel lose their temper then both were useless. Alex noted the rapier the man was holding, it’s Spanish style hilt a silver swirl. Though he couldn’t remember his name, Alex was sure he’d been introduced to the man at some point in the previous week. Putting back the hand-and-a-half sword, he picked up his rapier and dagger.

Alex stepped onto mat four. A woman smiled at him as she slipped on her face guard. The match lasted less than two minutes. He won on points.

“Practicing, have we?”

Alex turned, the man who commented earlier stood at an empty mat. He offered challenge, snapping his rapier up, Alex accepted the challenge but motioned toward the ring instead. The man’s face showed his surprise, but he accepted.

They waited for the ready signal then stood in posture.

“Sloppy.” The man muttered. “Engage.”

They moved quickly around the ring. The rapiers clicking and clanging. The daggers pushing aside thrusts.

Alex stayed loose, relaxed, dancing forward and back. He didn’t care about style, he was in the ring to win, or at least give a good show. The man had incredible speed and grace, but Alex was used to being over matched.

Marcus entered the men’s change room but Alex had already gone. Heading into the gymnasium, he was surprised to see a crowd around one of the rings. Looking around for Alex, he walked up to Berg. “What is happening?”

“Arthur beat Jane with the rapier. Then he accepted a fight with Brendan and moved it from the mat to the ring.”

“Is he mad?”

“Must be, he is winning.”

Marcus moved closer. He had never seen Arthur exhibit so much control. He looked to the board, both had scored points, but Arthur was doing the impossible. He was winning against a full blood Vampyre.

Kelvin and Loran came up beside Marcus and Berg, Arthur following behind.

“Where is Alex?” Marcus asked him.

“I left him waiting for a mat.”

“Jean is going to join us tonight. Wow! Who is that?” Arthur asked.

“Arthur’s kicking Brendan’s ass.” Berg said, his eyes never leaving the fight.

Marcus, Loran and Kelvin looked from Arthur to the man in the ring. Faces were turning now. Eyes going wide as those around them recognized Arthur.

Marcus realized that it had to be Alex in the ring. It would be Lord Brendan Ector’s stamina and reach that would win the match. Alex was putting on a good show, had lasted longer than anyone could have predicted, but it was impossible that the man could win. Yet, Marcus found himself mesmerized as Brendan forced Alex to defend and keep constantly in motion. He could see sweat starting to soak through under Alex’s armpits, could hear the growing labour of his breathing.

Alex was tiring. He needed to end the match soon. He was feeling the burn in his legs and arms. His world had become the man in front of him and the blades.

You know I’m tired,’ Alex thought. He feigned an opening. Felt the rapier blade strike his face guard even as he dropped.

A loud buzz froze everyone.

“I have him!” Brendan snarled.

“You are dead, sir.” The judge’s words surprised Brendan. He looked down. The force of his thrust had driven Arthur’s rapier through the cotton over his heart. Only the kevlar-spider weave had stopped the blade from penetrating.

Alex, already on his knees, collapsed to the floor and knocked off his face guard, gulping air.

Brendan stared down dumbfounded at Alex Hunter, George’s guest—George’s stock human guest, not a tweaked gene in his body, guest. Stepping forward, he offered his hand.

“Good match, man. Fantastic!”

Alex nodded and took the hand. He was pulled to his feet. Around them everyone was clapping.

“Please say someone got vid of that.” Brendan said. “I need to study your technique. Who taught you that last move, Mr. Hunter?”

“Either Westley or Inigo Montoya, I can’t remember which.” Alex said still gulping air. His legs were threatening to drop him.

“Excellent! Excellent!” Brendan seeing Arthur motioned him over. “You could learn something from this fellow, Arthur.”

* * *

 

HFSS Ship, Dante’s Dipper, in orbit around Albion, Realm System

 

 

“Tell me, Mr. Harker, what’s your take on Alex Hunter?” Charlie Girard asked as he entered the Dante’s Dipper special operations control room.

“He’s nobody, nothing. We ran a full history. Medical says it all. He had a reaction to a basic educational neural implant when he started kindergarten. Doctor wrote, brain too underdeveloped. Mentally and Genetically retarded. Had to learn everything by rote, no plug ins.”

“What about his service record?”

“Well, the thing is …” Harker turned his dark face toward the rest of the team, nodding a greeting. Then with a shrug brought up the main display. Every comment written by any person Alex had worked with was now displayed and there were eighty-seven. “We have eight commendations for courage under fire. Eleven for showing leadership. Fourteen for going above and beyond the call of duty. His performance record is excellent except…well, basically they all say the same, ‘…If not for his physical and mental handicaps, I believe this young officer would be a candidate for Command Officer Training.‘  Some recommend Special Services, others First Contact. And he’s been recommended for a list of awards. His last officer recommended he be considered for the White Star of Valour for his actions on the Gufur Guang.”

“Now, Mr. Harker. What can you tell me about Mr. Hunter?” Charlie was back at his desk.

“It’s just… He’s flat. Why would he choose to stay flat? So he can’t have neural implants, what about some basic tweaks?”

“Anyone else in this room know the answer?”

Rena Norton smiled. “He’s stubborn.”

“Too stubborn for his own good.” Haj Khalof agreed. “He’s mostly made friends with the rejects. He is cool under pressure.”

“Yes, saw the Gufur Guang’s vids,” Koto Iwamoto said as she opened a scrambled comm line to the team working on Albion below them. “He’s—Ooh, got something you’re all going to want to see.”

On the central view came a recorded vid of a sword fight. All five people watched, impressed. Then the fight was over.

“Holy Earth!” Titus Harker said. “He just beat a full fracking Vampire!”

“Stubborn.” Charlie said.

“We got incoming from Brian.” Koto Iwamoto said. The team’s level twenty-five telepath appeared. His Asian features looked harried.

“Well, Brian?” Charlie asked

“Something wicked, boss. They barely made it out. Karen suffered neural collapse. She’s not going to make it. Horatio barely made it. If Karen hadn’t done what she did …”

“Alright people, we have an incursion. What was the top level? Your take?”

“Technically the level was twenty-one, but Karen and I have sparred, so I’d put Karen at about twenty-four on the psi scale and physically she’s top model. There isn’t a Mil-Op out there that I’d put money on beating her. It took her apart, literally. Security detail, all of them, are gone. It just wiped them. Sir, still no visual.”

“By the Lady.” Hissed Haj Khalof as vids of the expired team flashed by.

“Wouldn’t it be nice, Mr. Harker, that when chasing down heavily enhanced Engineered Life Forms, we had someone immune to implanting?” Charlie wasn’t smiling.

“Yeah, it would—frack!

“Anyone still believe Mr. Hunter’s trip to the Realm was just a bunch of thousand year old Vampires trying to be nice?”

No one spoke.

“Thought not. I want eyes on Mr. Hunter.” Charlie stood. “Brian. Keep your team safe, but we need to know what it is. I’d give my teeth or a ten day paid vacation to find out what it is that whoever is pulling the strings on these ELFs wants on Albion. Brian, what’s your plan?”

“We’re following the E.L.F. Looks like we’ll be in Miller’s Road tonight. Brian out.”

“Harker?”

“Already on it, Sir.”

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